Michael A. Stecker

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Astrophotographer Portraits


Carnegie Las Campanas Observatory
(Atacama Desert, Chile)

In January 1931 the minds that revolutionized our concept of the universe met in the Hale Library at the Pasadena headquarters of The Carnegie Observatories.
From left to right:
Milton Humason, Edwin Hubble, Charles St. John, Albert Michelson,
Albert Einstein
, W. W. Campbell, and Walter Adams. x
The Carnegie Institution of Washington (CIOW) is a research institution started and originally funded by Andrew Carnegie.  From a historical aspect the Carnegie Institution is not only noted for its contribution to astronomy, but also for atomic energy.  For it was the Carnegie Institution  that did some of the first studies that resulted in the atomic bomb.  Its president (Vannevar Bush ) was in charge of the atomic bomb projects in the USA in the 1940's and he was second only to President Roosevelt in decisions regarding creating the bomb.
Currently the Carnegie Institution does research in astronomy, geophysics and biology.   The Observatories were founded by George Ellery Hale in 1904 and its headquarters are in Pasadena, California.  In its early years the solar telescope on Mt. Wilson was the principal research instrument.  However, the construction of the 60 and 100-inch Hooker Telescope reflectors on Mt. Wilson in 1906 and 1918 made Carnegie the world's premier astronomical institution.  During these years Edwin Hubble was the chief astronomer and made some of the most important astronomical discoveries of the 20 th century (like the expanding universe). The Mount Wilson Observatory is no longer associated with the Carnegie Institution.
The Carnegie Observatories (http://obs.carnegiescience.edu/) now operates telescopes at two sites.  The main site is on Cerro Las Campanas in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile and the less frquently used site is at the Palomar Observatory (California) where Carnegie is granted use of the 1.5 meter telescope 22% of the time.  The telescopes currently used at Las Campanas Observatory (http://www.lco.cl/) are the 1.0 meter f/7 Swope and 2.5 meter f/7.8 DuPont reflectors.  The smaller 13-inch Bruce refractor that discovered Supernova 1987A in the LMC is no longer operational.  While I was there three building projects were underway:
(1) reflecting telescope for Poland, (2) radio telescope for Japan and (3) Project Magellan as describe below. 

My February, 1996 stay at Carnegie Las Campanas Observatory, Chile
From left to right: James Foster, Miguel Roth, Director of Las Campanas Observatory and Michael Stecker


Carnegie Las Campanas Observatory, Chile
I took this photo from the hill of the future Magellan Telescopes when  my friend James Foster and I visited Las Campanas for 10 days and nights in February, 1996.  The observatory is at an altitiude of 2280 meters (7480 feet). At the far right is the Dupont 100-inch telescope, while at the far leftis the Swope 40-inch reflector.  Near the center of the photo is a small white building which housed the Bruce 13-inch refractor.  This was the telescope that photographically discovered Supernova 1987A in the Large Magellanic Cloud.  The supernova was seen visually slightly before its photographic discovery by  LCO technician Oscar Duhalde on his walk home from a night's work
(please click mouse twice over photo for an enlargement)


Las Campanas "Main Street"
I visited the Carnegie Las Campanas Observatory in the Atacama desert of northern Chile in February, 1996. My telescope was set up near Canada House (the low building with dark red roof to the right of the small central dirt road). The 40-inch Swope Telescope is at the upper right and the other silver domed Polish Telescope to the left of center. Just behind the Polish Telescope is a low white building that houses the Bruce Telescope that discovered Supernova 1987A in the Large Magellanic Cloud. This photo was taken from the parking lot of the DuPont 100-inch Telescope.
(please click mouse twice over the photo for an enlargement)
Tour Las Campanas Observatory


Canada House -- our home
I took this photo from the parking lot of the Dupont telescope.  The hill at the upper left is the construction site for the two 6.5 meter (260-inch) Magellan telescopes.  On the right is Canada House, the lodging for the University of Toronto staff.  This is where I set up my telescope.  Lodging for the other staff is limited and seen in the distant center.


My astrophotography equipment at LCO
Here I am at Las Campanas with my telesope set up near Canada House (formerly of the University of Toronto). I used an Astrophysics 130 mm f/6 EDF refractor with film on an Astrophysics 900 mount. My friend James Foster used a Celestron 11-inch SCT. The weather and astronomical conditions were perfect for all 10 days and nights. Canada House had a living room, kichen, small library, 2 bedrooms, a computer and a dark room. Felipe Mac-Auliffe was the telescope operator for the Toronto Telescope and was a gracious host. The only negative of the trip was the scorpion we found in the living room! Also, we were later evicted from our room when it was taken over by the chairman of the Astronomy Department at Harvard University -- Robert Kirshner and his colleagues. We were probably the last American amateur astronomers to visit the observatory. The dome above center is the 100-inch Dupont Telescope while the one the right (my left) was the then new Polish Telecope being constructed.


James Foster and Michael Stecker's astrophotography equipment -- Feb., 1996
On the left is James Foster's black Celestron 11-inch SCT and on the right my Astro-Physics 5-inch f/6 refractor on an AP-900 mount


DuPont 100-inch telescope


First of two Project Magellan 6.5 meter telescopes under construction in February, 1996
When at Las Campanas, I visited the construction site for the first of two 6.5 meter telescopes. 
First light for the first telescope was in the year 2000.
The second telescope came on line in 2002.

Future Plans:
The Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT)
casting the first mirror
Its primary mirror is composed of six 8.4m diameter off-axis hyperboloid segments.  The effective collecting area will be that of a 21.5m filled-aperture and the resolving power equivalent to a 24.4m diameter aperture.

Carnegie Institution of Washington