On the first night out with a new scope, what object would you look at? A planet? A bright star cluster? Researchers with the Large Binocular Telescope (LBT) chose Andromeda’s edge-on spiral galaxy NGC 891 as their first target.
Located at the University of Arizona’s Mount Graham International Observatory, the LBT saw first light October 12, 2005. The instrument used its one of its two mirrors to capture the galaxy — the other is not operational. The Large Binocular Camera, mounted above the primary mirror, made the image.
The observation initiates a new period of observing. With two 27.6-foot (8.4-meter) honeycomb primary mirrors, the LBT can observe the deep cosmos with remarkable clarity. The instrument will be the world’s most technologically advanced optical telescope and is expected to create images nearly 10 times sharper than the Hubble Space Telescope. Astronomers will be able to search distant solar systems for planets.
Peter A. Strittmatter, president of the LBT Corporation, was thrilled with the initial results.
“These first images far exceed our expectations and provide a glimpse of the unparalleled observational power the LBT will provide,” says Strittmatter. “We are extremely excited by the prospect that we can now observe the universe from the earliest epochs of galaxy formation as well as provide major new capabilities for the study of [extrasolar] planets and the possibility of life outside our solar system.”
The LBT is an international collaboration composed of institutions from the United States, Germany, and Italy. The instrument will be fully operational in autumn 2006.