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Catholic church telescope on Mt. Graham

Posted: Wednesday, Oct 5th, 2011

Photo taken and copy righted by Rick Scott.

A lot of people apparently are not aware that one of the three large telescopes on Mt.  Graham in the Coronado National Forest is owned by the Catholic Church.   It’s called the Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope which sits quitely in the tall pines on the northwest side on the 10,713-foot high huge mountain where you can see all of the San Carlos Apache Reservation. In fact, the secluded dome-shaped building housing this unique telescope is about 16 air miles southeast of the southern tip of the Reservation line.

Rick Scott, who has built his own telescope, took some amazing photographs of the fascinating piece of equipment owned and operated by the Vatican in Italy to observe and study the stars in the heavens above. The Chandler resident is interested in the research of the skies above because he works as a designer of radios used in space craft. Scott points out his radios are on various space telescopes, scientific satellites in orbit around the Earth, Moon, Mars and even the rovers on Mars.

He says the huge 1.8-meter Gregorian Lens telescope owned and operated by the Vatican in Italy is very impressive due to its fairly large size in a compact dome. “I liked the way they used a variety of components including some that amateur astronomers could afford to buy and use. The astronomers we talked to here (at Mt. Graham) were very friendly and told us about some of the research they were doing.”

Photographing the telescope was challenging because the dome it sits under is small forcing him to set up the camera and tripod close to the case of the scope. Even with the tripod, Scott said he still had to set the camera to a very high speed setting of ISO 1600 and use a slow shutter speed of 1/40 of a second and a wide aperture of 1/4 because it was so close. “I also had to use my lens at its widest focal length of 16 mm.”

As far as the site where the VATT is located, Scott said he was surprised that the area around this observatory and the two others nearby by on Mt. Graham operated by the University of Arizona were in a nice forest. “This is generally what I experienced at observatories. Astronomers tend to be nature minded people. After all, they do study nature.”

The Catholic Church has been researching the heavens from here ever since its Vatican Technology Telescope was completed on Mt. Graham back in 1993. The Vatican, which had an observatory in Italy, decided it wanted to develop its new observatory at Mt. Graham because by many this was considered among the best astronomical sites in the United States with clearer skies.

Astronomy is not new for the religious organization. The Catholic Church first started researching the skies back in the 16th Century when Pope Gregory XIII organized a committee to study scientific data from the havens. The observatory in Italy was built in the 18th Century.

The Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope here uses a mostly hollow, honeycombed glass primary mirror that was cast at the Steward Observatory Mirror Lab located at the University of Arizona in Tucson. Roger Angel is the founder of the unique mirror lab in which he developed a new spin-casting technique to create the Mt. Graham telescope’s Mirror.

Astronomers for the Vatican point out they are using an Angel mirror in their work.

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