At the summit [of Mauna Kea in Hawaii] one can find several of the world’s finest telescopes, including the W. M. Keck Observatory, a partnership between Caltech and the University of California. Situated below Keck’s twin telescopes is an area dubbed Submillimeter Valley, where the silver geodesic dome of the Caltech Submillimeter Observatory(CSO) has resided since the observatory’s inception in 1985, along with two other facilities that observe the cosmos using similar wavelengths of light.
This past summer, astronomers, engineers, and technicians dismantled CSO’s telescope, including its 10.4-meter primary mirror, or reflector, which is made of 84 hexagonal aluminum honeycomb panels and weighs 10,000 pounds. They carefully reverse engineered the mirror frame, or truss, separating it into eight pieces and then loaded these and other telescope components into shipping containers that wound down the mountain on trucks.
Ultimately, astronomers plan to ship the telescope to the Atacama Desert in Chile, where it will be reassembled and renamed the Leighton Chajnantor Telescope. The name honors both the inventor of the telescope, the late Caltech professor Robert B. Leighton (BS '41, MS '44, PhD '47), and the planned site for the observatory on the high Chajnantor Plateau. “The submillimeter light we want to observe from the cosmos can be absorbed by water vapor in the air, and the air is even drier at Chajnantor, so being there will enhance our observations,” says Sunil Golwala…