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The University of Arizona Mirror Laboratory - Steward Observatory Mirror Lab

If you think it's hot at 100 degrees in Tucson today, imagine the noontime temperature at 482 degrees Fahrenheit. That's how hot it si inside the University of Arizona Mirror Lab furnace. UA Steward Observatory astronomer John Hill predicted that temperatures very early May 20 will hit 2,100 degrees - so hot you can watch glass melt. Actually, you can watch 41,140 pounds of glass melt inside the Mirror Lab furnace.

At the University of Arizona's Steward Observatory Mirror Laboratory, a team of scientists and engineers are making giant, lightweight mirrors of unprecedented power for a new generation of optical and infrared telescopes.

These mirrors are a radical departure from the conventional solid-glass mirrors used in the past. They are honeycombed on the inside; made out of borosilicate glass that is melted, molded and spun into shape in a specially designed rotating oven. These honeycomb mirrors offer the advantages of their solid counterparts, rigidity and stability, but they can be made significantly larger and dramatically lighter.

The Mirror Lab team has also developed a revolutionary new method to polish the honeycomb mirrors with a deeply curved, parabolic surface that gives them a focal length much shorter than conventional mirrors. Such so-called fast mirrors not only improve telescope performance, but they can fit into a much shorter telescope body that requires a smaller, less expensive enclosure.

The pioneering work being done today at the Steward Observatory Mirror Lab had its beginning around 1980 with a backyard experiment by Dr. Roger Angel, the lab's founder and director. Curious about the suitability of borosilicate glass (the kind used in glass ovenware) for making honeycombed structures, he tested the idea by fusing together two custard cups in an improvised kiln. The experiment was a success and led to a series of bigger kilns and small furnaces and, eventually, the casting of three 1.8 meter mirrors.

By 1985, with financial support primarily from the US Air Force, the National Science Foundation and the University of Arizona, Roger Angel and a talented Mirror Lab team moved to the current facility under the east wing of the UA football stadium. A large, rotating furnace was built and a series of mirrors as big as 3.5 meters in diameter were successfully cast.

The Steward Observatory Mirror Lab located at 527 National Champion Drive, right next to Arizona Stadium on the University of Arizona campus offers frequent guided tours to students, visiting astronomers, astronomy clubs and the general public. On any given day, the Mirror Lab may contain $20 million worth of large telescope optics in fabrication. The Mirror Lab is also an active manufacturing facility where large machinery is operating. Therefore certain precautions are necessary for the protection of the tourists and the optics. Tour participants are to pay close attention to guides and obey directions. Depending on operations underway at the time of the tour, certain areas of the lab may be off limits. The Mirror Lab is a secure facility. Tours must be scheduled at least a week in advance in order to coordinate tour guides; No walk-in tours are permitted.

For more information: 520-621-1022 or

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5845 N Calle Tiburon
Tucson, AZ 85704
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