The United States (U.S.) National Science Foundation has awarded $3.9 million to researchers at the University of California Santa Cruz (UC Santa Cruz) to lead the development of a next-generation telescope alignment system for the Medium-Sized Telescopes (MSTs). The alignment systems will be the first major U.S. contribution to the Cherenkov Telescope Array Observatory (CTAO). The researchers will work with an international team to build and test systems in Santa Cruz and eventually install the final designs in seven telescopes.

The MST is one of three types of telescopes that will form the CTAO’s two array so of telescopes. It is optimized to capture the CTAO’s core energy range, from about 150 GeV to 5 TeV. Nine MSTs will be built at the CTAO-North array site on La Palma, Spain, while 14 will be part of the CTAO-South array in Chile. Every telescope has around 100 mirror segments that will each need their own alignment system. The lab at UC Santa Cruz will develop ideas for the systems, build prototypes and work with manufacturers to find a scalable option. In addition to being accurate, reliable and cost-effective, the systems must also be resilient.

“We need it to withstand the weather and the elements, because, unlike optical telescopes, gamma-ray telescopes don’t have domes over them. They’re sitting out in the weather,” said David Williams, researcher in the Santa Cruz Institute for Particle Physics (SCIPP) and adjunct professor of physics who has worked on the development of the CTAO for nearly 20 years. The project is based out of the SCIPP, which “has long had a strength in doing instrumentation for high-energy particle physics and now high-energy particle astrophysics,” said Williams.

Designing and testing the systems will allow early career scientists and students to experience hands-on research and training and contribute to a large international research infrastructure. “We’re going to be able to see things with higher resolution,” said Amy Furniss, new UC Santa Cruz teaching professor, working on the alignment system project. “We’re going to be able to see things farther afield, and our students, our graduate students and our faculty here at UC Santa Cruz, by putting in that work at the fundamental level, are going to be part of making this huge effort possible,” she said.

The UC Santa Cruz team will work with colleagues at UCLA, the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (SAO), NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, and the Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron (DESY) and Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics Tuebingen (IAAT) in Germany.

The UC Santa Cruz team will also install alignment systems on the Schwarzschild-Couder Telescope (SCT), a dual-mirrored telescope that is being developed and proposed as an alternative type of medium telescope for the CTAO.

Read the UC Santa Cruz press release:

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University of California Awarded $3.9 Million to Develop Alignment System for Medium-Sized Telescopes - CTAO