Astronomers plan to build the world’s largest solar telescope on Haleakalā, Maui, Hawai’i. The air is exceptionally clear, dry and still here, in the middle of the Pacific, more than 3000 m above sea level – ideal conditions for a terrestrial telescope to observe the full scope of electromagnetic activities on the surface of the sun. The project is funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation.
Construction of the ATST is scheduled to begin following the permitting process of the Hawaiian Department of Land and Natural Resources with operation anticipated to commence in 2018. The primary mirror has a diameter of 4.25 meters, which will be masked to a clear aperture of 4 meters, and focuses the incoming sunlight through a heat stop then into the telescope’s optical system.
The curved primary mirror substrate will be made of the “Zerodur” glass-ceramic from SCHOTT and is approximately 76 millimeters in thickness at its thinnest point. This allows the mirror to be easily adjusted using the actuators on its backside, but also to cool it to ambient temperature to reduce image distortion.
“Our glass-ceramic features the outstanding characteristic of having a coefficient of thermal expansion that is close to zero,” explains Dr. Thomas Westerhoff, head of the “Zerodur” product group at SCHOTT. “This allows for light to be reflected without being distorted. Besides, this glass-ceramic is extremely stable with respect to its shape and, with a specific density of 2.53 grams per cubic centimeter, even lighter than aluminum,” he notes.
SCHOTT has been supplying large-format mirror substrates made of “Zerodur” to astronomical observatories all over the world since 1968. With the Swedish Solar Telescope located on La Palma, the New Solar Telescope on Big Bear Lake in California, the “Sunrise” telescope carried by a balloon and the German telescope GREGOR on Tenerife that will go into operation soon, the world’s most modern and largest solar observatories are all equipped with mirror substrates made of “Zerodur” glass-ceramic.