Although the new 1.6 meter telescope has only been operational since May 2009 and will be in its commissioning phase for up to three years, it is already providing unique quality images of the Sun. This telescope is three times larger than its predecessor and the open frame, off-axis mounting ensures full exposure to the Sun.
The primary mirror of the telescope was polished by the Steward Observatory Mirror Laboratory at the University of Arizona with a new method using a computer-generated hologram to achieve an unmatched precision in its shape. It is said that this mirror will be the standard by which all the best visual telescopes will be built in the future.
Another new feature of Big Bear’s new telescope is a thermal control system to keep the mirrors at optimal temperatures which precisely match inside and outside the dome except when not in use at night. At night it is slightly cooler than the outside to prepare for initial warming in the morning. In addition, the mirror houses 36 actuators that bend out slight aberrations or anomalies that may occur with thermal distortions or gravitational effects.
The director of the project at Big Bear is Dr. Philip R. Goode, Professor of Physics at the New Jersey Institute of Science, who has overseen the observatory since 1997. Dr. Goode explains that the new telescope will provide “images offering a better understanding of the Sun," and of the “dynamic storms and space-weather which can have dramatic effects of Earth."
Over the next several years as the Sun emerges from a prolonged phase of inactivity. That emergence will be able to be studied in a way that has never been done before.