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The Sciences

World's Biggest Binoculars

Astronomers open a new window onto the universe.

By Alex StoneDecember 11, 2006 6:00 AM

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After more than two decades of design and construction, the largest telescope in the world will finally be operational by January 2007. Situated atop Arizona's Mount Graham, 10,500 feet above the Chihuahuan desert, the $120 million Large Binocular Telescope—LBT to its builders—is a marvel of modern engineering, with a pair of 27.6-foot mirrors, image-correcting electronics, and a resolution unmatched by any other optical telescope on Earth or in the heavens, including the Hubble Space Telescope.

The payoff, astronomers hope, will be penetrating new insights into a number of fundamental cosmic puzzles, including how the first stars and galaxies formed and whether our solar system is unique. "From taking spectra of galaxies and quasars at the most distant parts of the universe to looking at comets in the outer parts of our own solar system, LBT will do a little bit of everything, and probably even things that we haven't thought of yet," says LBT technical director John Hill.

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