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Tracking HET’s Progress

New tracker assembly lifted into place atop telescope

STATUS REPORT: MARCH 17, 2014

Engineers completed a key step in the Hobby-Eberly Telescope upgrade in February when they lifted and attached the new tracker to the top of the telescope. This assembly, which was designed and built at the University of Texas at Austin Center for Electromechanics, will allow the telescope to track astronomical objects as they rotate across its field of view.

Sarah Tuttle with one of the VIRUS mirrors before assembly [Damond Benningfield]

The new tracker is prepared for lifting [Coyne Gibson/McDonald Observatory]

Because of HET’s design, it doesn’t have the same range of motion as most other large telescopes. The tracker compensates by following target objects as their light reflects off the telescope’s main mirror. The new tracker was raised by a crane, then lowered into position through the telescope dome.

In the meantime, the instruments that will ride on the tracker are nearing completion, and should be delivered to McDonald Observatory for installation this spring.

One of the key instruments is a the new Wide-Field Corrector, which will allow the telescope to see a much larger patch of sky than the original telescope. Its mirrors received state-of-the-art reflective coatings, and were delivered to the University of Arizona Mirror Lab, which is integrating the corrector unit. The Prime Focus Instrument Package provides guidance cameras and other instrumentation that will keep the telescope in sharp focus as it tracks.

When the HET upgrades are completed, the 150 VIRUS units will be loaded on the telescope and astronomers will begin verifying the performance of both the instruments and the telescope itself. First light for the upgraded telescope is expected in summer, with HETDEX science operations beginning a few months later.