RIT agreement helps scientists north and south share space observations

There are some things in space you just can’t see from here.

That’s why Rochester Institute of Technology worked over the last three years with Argentinian officials to renovate an observatory near La Plata, Argentina, that had been unused since 2001. After renovating two radio telescopes at the observatory, the scientists from the United States and Argentina have been able to see and study pulsars seen only from the Southern Hemisphere, and have agreed to continue working together.

Renovating these radio telescopes in Argentina was part of a joint project between RIT and Argentinian scientists. Photo supplied by Instituto Argentino de Radioastronomía ###
Renovating these radio telescopes in Argentina was part of a joint project between RIT and Argentinian scientists. (Photo courtesy Instituto Argentino de Radioastronomía)

“We have opened up the possibility to directly observe and study neutron stars in the deep southern sky from our lab in the Northern Hemisphere,” said Carlos Lousto, professor in RIT’s School of Mathematical Sciences and a member of the university’s Center for Computational Relativity and Gravity.  “Those stars are not directly accessible from radio telescopes in the north because the Earth lies in between our sight line. We have also implemented a visitor program to and from Argentina that increases the RIT interactions with Hispanic scientists and culture.”

RIT’s Professor Manuela Campanelli, director of the computational center, and Gustavo Romero, director of Instituto Argentino de Radioastronomía, have signed an exchange agreement to share projects, students and data. Several Argentinian students have already come to Rochester to work on research and more are expected.

The cooperative project was documented in the Dec. 2 issue of the scientific journal, Astronomy and Astrophysics.

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Harris ships its largest observatory mirror

Harris LSST prior to assembly integration. (Photo provided)
Harris LSST prior to assembly integration. (Photo provided)

Harris Corp.’s Rochester-based Space and Intelligence Systems has shipped its largest mirror ever for a ground-based observatory that will produce the deepest, widest views of the universe.

As part of the National Science Foundation team assembling the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) on the Cerro Pachon ridge in Chili, Harris is providing the 3.5 meter, 3,500-pound secondary mirror and associated ground support equipment. Harris also is delivering the cell assembly that stabilizes the mirror to offset the effects of gravity during operation.

It took Harris employees some five years to design, build, integrate, test and ship the LSST mirror and cell assembly.

“The Harris-built secondary mirror for LSST continues a 50-year legacy of designing and constructing high-end optical systems that meet challenging requirements,” said Murali Krishnan, vice president and general manager, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance for Harris Space and Intelligence Systems. “We can’t wait to see the science that will be discovered.”

LSST will conduct an unprecedented, decade-long survey of the entire visible sky, detecting billions of new objects and contributing to the study of dark matter and dark energy. LSST will seek to enable science in four areas including the understanding of dark matter and dark energy; cataloging the solar system; exploring the changing sky; and investigating the formation and structure of the Milky Way.

Operations are scheduled to begin in 2022.

Harris Corp. LSST loading team. (Photo provided)
Harris Corp. LSST loading team. (Photo provided)

“This achievement marks the successful conclusion of a great joint effort between LSST and Harris. Numerous challenges due to the mirror’s large size and convex shape were overcome with novel and custom fabrication and metrology solutions,” said LSST Telescope and Site Manager William Gressler in a statement. “The Harris team successfully completed and is delivering the world’s largest active secondary mirror system. We look forward to its delivery to the summit site in Chile and future telescope integration.”

Harris employs some 3,500 people in Rochester between its Space and Intelligence Systems and Communication Systems divisions.

“This federal National Science Foundation investment is leveraging Harris’ skilled Rochester workforce to bring the farthest reaches of the universe into focus,” U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer said. “A leader in Rochester’s world-class optics and photonics industry, Harris employees are making history by manufacturing the world’s largest terrestrial telescope active secondary mirror system in Rochester, N.Y. Their cutting-edge achievement will push scientific frontiers, enable new discoveries and chart the universe like never before.”

Schumer, a vocal proponent of both Harris’ local operations and the continued exploration of the cosmos, was in town last week to drum up support for federal funding for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s next space telescope, Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST), which is being constructed largely by Harris’ Rochester workforce.

WFIRST will have the same image precision as the Hubble telescope, but will be able to see an area of space 100 times larger than Hubble can see.

Earlier this year, the Office of Management and Budget proposed cutting all fiscal year 2019 funding for the WFIRST project, however Schumer pushed his colleagues in the Senate to include $352 million in NASA funding for the telescope in their version of the Commerce Justice and Science Appropriations bill.

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