KNAU and Arizona News
3:00 am
Fri July 20, 2012

Lowell commemorates new telescope with Neil Armstrong at first-light gala

Lowell Observatory will commission its newest, largest and most advanced telescope Saturday.

And a special guest at the telescope’s gala celebration will be astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first person to walk on the moon.

Lowell astronomers hope the new telescope will spark the scientific imaginations of a new generation, just as Armstrong’s moonwalk did 43 years ago.

“That’s one small step for man; one giant leap for mankind.”

With those words, on July 21, 1969, NASA astronaut Neil Armstrong marked the apex of the space race – walking on the moon.

And he captivated the world’s attention and imagination.

Armstrong is scheduled to speak in Flagstaff, exactly 43 years later at a sold-out gala to celebrate the unveiling of the Discovery Channel Telescope.

It’s the fifth largest telescope to be built in the continental United States.

Lowell Observatory partnered with the Discovery Channel and three universities to build the $53 million telescope south of Flagstaff.

Jeff Hall, Lowell’s director, says the partnership means that millions of viewers around the world will learn about the groundbreaking space research under way here.

“Our astronomers could be familiar faces to a whole generation of new -- if not astronomers, at least scientists,” Hall says.

The telescope, with an ultra-thin, flexible 4.3-meter mirror -- is incredibly versatile.

In some cases, it can use multiple instruments at the same time to find out things like the speed or temperature of objects light years away.

Hall says scientists will be able to use that technology to answer fundamental questions about our universe.

“Where did we come from? What are the origins of our solar system and the origins of earth? We’ll be studying some of these ancient cold objects in the outer solar system – the Kuiper belt objects that are tracers of the very early solar system…The question of, ‘Are we alone in the universe?  Are there other planets out there, possibly planets capable of supporting life as we know it?” he asks

The telescope is already delivering sharp images that will be unveiled at the first-light gala on Saturday.

For astronomers, the ceremony is the equivalent of breaking champagne on the bow of a ship.  

Lowell’s Kevin Schindler says one of the first images recorded by the Discovery Telescope in May was the Sombrero Galaxy.

He says that’s particularly significant because Lowell’s former director made a groundbreaking discovery while studying that galaxy 100 years ago.

“V.M. Slipher here at Lowell Observatory was discovering these distance objects that he realized were moving really fast away from us,” he says. “That was the first evidence of the expanding nature of the universe.”

And that discovery led to the development of the Big Bang Theory.

In addition to first-light images, gala guests will get a rare opportunity to hear Neil Armstrong speak.

The first person to set foot on the moon rarely makes public remarks.

But his training in Northern Arizona nearly 50 years ago may have influenced his decision to return.

Lowell’s Kevin Schindler says prior to the moon mission, Armstrong and other astronauts trained at Meteor and Sunset craters, where the terrain is similar to the moon.

Almost everything you can imagine they did on the moon, they tested here in Flagstaff,” he says.

After training during the day, Schindler says the Apollo astronauts peered for hours through telescopes at Lowell, where astronomers had been mapping the surface of the moon.

“When you go to a foreign country, you take a map so you figure out where you’re going. If you’re going to go to a foreign world, you better have a map to figure out where you’re going to land,” he says.   

And the new Discovery Channel Telescope, Schindler says, will give us new maps, of worlds we cannot yet begin to imagine.

Lowell Observatory will commission its newest, largest and most advanced telescope Saturday.

And a special guest at the telescope’s gala celebration will be astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first person to walk on the moon.

Lowell astronomers hope the new telescope will spark the scientific imaginations of a new generation, just as Armstrong’s moonwalk did 43 years ago.

Arizona Public Radio’s Shelley Smithson has this report…

“That’s one small step for man; one giant leap for mankind.”

With those words, on July 21, 1969, NASA astronaut Neil Armstrong marked the apex of the space race – walking on the moon.

And he captivated the world’s attention and imagination.

Armstrong is scheduled to speak in Flagstaff, exactly 43 years later at a sold-out gala to celebrate the unveiling of the Discovery Channel Telescope.

It’s the fifth largest telescope to be built in the continental United States.

Lowell Observatory partnered with the Discovery Channel and three universities to build the $53 million telescope south of Flagstaff.

Jeff Hall, Lowell’s director, says the partnership means that millions of viewers around the world will learn about the groundbreaking space research under way here.

“Our astronomers could be familiar faces to a whole generation of new -- if not astronomers, at least scientists,” Hall says.

The telescope, with an ultra-thin, flexible 4.3-meter mirror -- is incredibly versatile.

In some cases, it can use multiple instruments at the same time to find out things like the speed or temperature of objects light years away.

Hall says scientists will be able to use that technology to answer fundamental questions about our universe.

“Where did we come from? What are the origins of our solar system and the origins of earth? We’ll be studying some of these ancient cold objects in the outer solar system – the Kuiper belt objects that are tracers of the very early solar system…The question of, ‘Are we alone in the universe?  Are there other planets out there, possibly planets capable of supporting life as we know it?” he asks

The telescope is already delivering sharp images that will be unveiled at the first-light gala on Saturday.

For astronomers, the ceremony is the equivalent of breaking champagne on the bow of a ship.  

Lowell’s Kevin Schindler says one of the first images recorded by the Discovery Telescope in May was the Sombrero Galaxy.

He says that’s particularly significant because Lowell’s former director made a groundbreaking discovery while studying that galaxy 100 years ago.

“V.M. Slipher here at Lowell Observatory was discovering these distance objects that he realized were moving really fast away from us,” he says. “That was the first evidence of the expanding nature of the universe.”

And that discovery led to the development of the Big Bang Theory.

In addition to first-light images, gala guests will get a rare opportunity to hear Neil Armstrong speak.

The first person to set foot on the moon rarely makes public remarks.

But his training in Northern Arizona nearly 50 years ago may have influenced his decision to return.

Lowell’s Kevin Schindler says prior to the moon mission, Armstrong and other astronauts trained at Meteor and Sunset craters, where the terrain is similar to the moon.

Almost everything you can imagine they did on the moon, they tested here in Flagstaff,” he says.

After training during the day, Schindler says the Apollo astronauts peered for hours through telescopes at Lowell, where astronomers had been mapping the surface of the moon.

“When you go to a foreign country, you take a map so you figure out where you’re going. If you’re going to go to a foreign world, you better have a map to figure out where you’re going to land,” he says.   

And the new Discovery Channel Telescope, Schindler says, will give us new maps, of worlds we cannot yet begin to imagine.