Inside the University of Arizona’s Mirror Lab

Have you ever wondered where the world’s largest telescopes get their mirrors? If you’ve ever gone to a football game at the University of Arizona, the answer was right under your nose. That’s the location of the Richard F. Caris Mirror Laboratory, where enormous mirrors are painstakingly designed and built to serve the telescopes that see further into the universe than many astronomers ever dreamed possible.

What is the Mirror Lab?

The Mirror Lab is run by Steward Observatory, a branch of the University of Arizona’s Department of Astronomy. The lab was founded by Dr. J. Roger Angel, and it has been located under the east wing of Arizona Stadium since 1985. Today, the Mirror Lab is home to a rotating furnace where the telescope mirrors are spun, two stations where the mirrors are polished, and a tower where they are tested.

Why are the Lab’s mirrors so special?

The mirrors constructed at the Lab aren’t just unusual because of their size; they are also technically groundbreaking. The Lab’s mirrors are cast in a parabolic shape that makes them easy to polish, and they are lighter than many other large telescope mirrors. They also have shorter focal lengths than most mirrors, which makes them ideal for viewing distant objects.

How large are the Lab’s mirrors?

The first mirrors ever built by the Lab were about 3.5 meters wide, but that was only the beginning. Since then, the Mirror Lab has constructed the 8.4-meter-wide mirror for Chile’s Large Synoptic Survey Telescope and a mirror of identical width for Arizona’s Large Binocular Telescope—currently the sixth largest completed telescope in the world.

What is the Lab working on today?

Most recently, the Lab has built four of a projected seven 8.4-meter-wide mirrors for the Giant Magellan Telescope. When it is completed in 2025, the GMT will be the largest telescope the world has ever known, capable of magnifying distant objects with 10 times as much power as the Hubble Space Telescope. The 21st century is an exciting time for astronomy, and the Mirror Lab is one of the reasons why.

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Justyn - Digital Marketing Manager, Special Projects
Justyn Dillingham

Digital Marketing Manager, Special Projects

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