Michael Skrutskie, University of Virginia
Since the invention of the telescope somewhere in the Netherlands around the end of the 16th century one thing has generally mattered most to builders and users of these instruments… larger apertures collect more light and reveal finer detail, ultimately opening the door to studies ranging from observations of the most distant observable universe, the direct detection and characterization of extrasolar planets, and “spacecraft quality” observations of Solar System objects. Individual institutions, entire nations, and now consortia of nations are striving to build bigger and better telescopes. What do we stand to gain from these billion dollar investments? What is the current state of the art and how is it revolutionizing Astronomy as a science? When, if ever, do we reach the limits of affordability in the quest for immense collecting area? What do we do with all of those left over “small” telescopes? This romp through modern telescope technology and its scientific application will attempt to both answer and obfuscate these questions and a few more.
Michael Skrutskie is a professor of astronomy and the department chair at the University of Virginia, home of the world’s largest telescope (at least when the order was placed in 1870). Today Virginia is a small partner in a large consortium that owns and operates the world’s truly largest optical/infrared telescope ‐ the Large Binocular Telescope located at Mt. Graham, Arizona. Professor Skrutskie directs a laboratory that designs and fabricates infrared imagers and spectrographs that enable the extraction of science from the photons collected by telescope aperture both large and small. He received his Ph.D. from Cornell University and is the recipient of the James Craig Watson medal of the National Academy of Sciences for contributions to Astronomy.