What Makes The SMT Unique


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In addition to receiver and atmospheric complications, the physical design of a submillimeter telescope also presents some interesting challenges. Any telescope's mirror surface, be it a radio or optical telescope, must be smoother than a small fraction of the wavelength of light sought. In the case of submillimeter-wave telescopes, this stipulates that the telescope "dish" (called the primary reflector) must have no surface irregularities larger than about 20 microns (1/50,000th of a meter, about the thickness of a human hair). Imagine building a 33 foot (10 meter) curved surface to the tolerance of a thickness of a human hair! Even more important is the fact that this tolerance must be maintained regardless of temperature change, sunlight, and wind. The meeting of these requirements through a carefully designed composite supporting structure makes the SMT the most accurate radio telescope ever built.

 

This image was taken during the SMT reflector's holographic testing in 1995, showing that the RMS deviations of the reflector are nearing the targeted 15 microns.

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