Magdalena Ridge Observatory Interferometer (MROI) control

Observatory Sciences is producing the software to control an array of telescopes being built on Magdalena Ridge, New Mexico which will provide ultra high resolution astronomical images.

The Magdalena Ridge telescope's control system will be written using the LabVIEW graphical programming language from National Instruments, incorporating positional astronomy and telescope pointing software supplied under licence from Tpoint.

The Magdalena Ridge Observatory (MRO) is an astronomical observatory about 30 miles (48 kilometres) west of the town of Socorro, New Mexico. It is situated at an elevation of 10,600 feet (3180 metres), making it the fourth highest observatory in the world. Scheduled for completion in 2009, the site will house two main facilities: the Magdalena Ridge Observatory Interferometer (MROI) and a single 2.4 metre telescope.

High resolution images

Optical interferometry is used to combine the light beams from several telescopes to produce ultra high resolution images. The MROI array will consist of up to ten 1.4m diameter telescopes in a Y-configuration, operating in the optical and near-infrared. The telescopes will be moveable, allowing variable baselines (inter-telescope spacings) between 7.5 and 340 metres.

The facility will be used to investigate young stellar objects and planetary companion formation, to study the astrophysics of many different stages of stellar evolution, and to study the active galactic nuclei of nearby host galaxies. The telescopes making up the interferometer will be optically linked in order to produce images with unprecedented detail. And as well as being able to produce much more accurate images, a big advantage of the array is that it will be able to make these images many times faster than other existing and planned interferometric arrays.

Positioning tolerances

The facility is being designed and built collaboratively by the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology (NMT), the US Naval Research Laboratory, and the University of Cambridge's Cavendish Laboratory. A key aspect of the interferometer design will be the ability to meet the required positioning tolerances.

OSL is working in on the project in partnership with AMOS. The project will be completed in phases, with the initial phase being three telescopes constructed by AMOS, all of which will have near-infrared imaging capabilities. Subsequent phases will see the completion of the array of ten telescopes, and once finished the instrument will be capable of producing images of about 100 times greater resolution than the Hubble Space Telescope. The interferometer expects first light in late 2009.

AMOS has been building telescopes since 1983, including the design and delivery
of the auxiliary telescopes for the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope Interferometer.

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