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Carnegie Las Campanas Observatory


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://www.ociw.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 (LCO - http://www.ociw.edu/lco/) 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. 

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.


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.


Canada House is at the right and the former University of Toronto
Telescope at the upper left.  I used an Astrophysics 130 mm f/6 EDF
refractor 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,
kitchen, 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! We were probably the last
American amateur astronomers to visit the observatory.


DuPont 100-inch telescope


Project Magellan (Twin  6.5 meter telescopes):
The Carnegie Institution of Washington in cooperation with the University of Arizona, Harvard University, the University of Michigan (my alma mater) and MIT, are constructing two 6.5 meter (260-inch) telescopes at Las Campanas.  First light for the first telescope was in the year 2000. The second telescope came on line in 2002.

When at Las Campanas, I visited the construction site for the first of
two 6.5 meter telescopes.


Future Plans:
The Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT)
casting the first mirror
Like Project Magellan, the Carnegie Institution of Washington in cooperation with the University of Arizona, Harvard University, the University of Michigan (my alma mater) and MIT plan on building a much larger telescope in Chile.  It will be called the GMT.  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.