The Chilean telescope expert Gustavo Rahmer is working in the United States to build in Chile what will be the largest in the world, which will allow the study of objects hitherto invisible to scientists, according to what he told Efe in an interview.
“We will be able to see things in more detail, for example to see planets that revolve around other stars. It will allow us to study the atmosphere, its composition, helping in the search for planets like Earth, looking for atmospheres where indicators of life may exist,” the engineer explained.
The telescope, whose seven mirrors were made in a laboratory at the University of Arizona, is expected to be completed in the early 2030s in Chile.
Currently Rahmer, with more than 25 years of experience in research and development of space telescope technology, is in charge of coordinating the development of cameras that serve to capture light and take it to different instruments as part of the so-called Giant Magellan Telescope Project. (GMT).
The Chilean, who is the highest-ranking instrumentation engineer of the GMT, is also the leader of the education program at Mount Lemmon Sky Center in Tucson, Arizona, which seeks to foster interest in science and astronomy, sharing his experience staff through presentations and talks.
“I’ve always been interested in astronomy. Since I was a child I liked to take things apart and see how they worked. Astronomy is a science that allows us to investigate how the universe works,” says Rahmer, 51.
Last May, it joined the GMT, an international collaboration that is under construction in Chile.
“We are evaluating new technology, but we have to find a balance between innovative and reliable,” said the engineer, who has a master’s degree in imaging sciences from the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York.
The Latino narrated that during his first professional internship at the Cerro Tololo Observatory in Chile, he discovered that astronomy is much more than simply “seeing things” in space, and that it involves designing and building optomechanical instruments.
It was there that he began his career in astronomy and got his first job as an electronic engineer, designing imaging systems in 1995.
“Now we are used to everyone having cameras, even in our cell phones. However, back then electronic cameras were hardly being used in astronomy. They had to be designed from scratch to be used in conjunction with telescopes,” Rahmer said.
“Telescopes are time machines; they allow us to see and capture a moment in time in images. They allow us to see what happened thousands of years ago in our universe,” he said.
The expert, who has worked with NOIRlab, the European Southern Observatory, the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and the Very Large Telescope (VLT), in Chile, among other organizations, explained that the further we see through space thanks to a telescope, further back in time we can see ourselves.
“The images we’re seeing of our closest galaxy, the Andromeda galaxy, take 2.5 million years to reach us. That means we’re seeing what it was like 2.5 million years in the past,” he said.
The technology that the Chilean has helped develop has made it possible to capture increasingly clear, high-definition images of stars, planets, and galaxies.
In 2005, he came to the United States and joined Caltech, where he began working on developing a new technology, evaluating candidates for in-chamber detectors for a possible space project.
In 2011 Rahmer experimented with the use of lasers at the University of Arizona’s Large Binocular Telescope Observatory, the world’s largest binocular telescope, with two large 8.4-meter-diameter mirrors.
It is a relatively new field within astronomy, where lasers are fired to create “artificial stars”, which are used as references to correct atmospheric distortions and enhance images.
“One of the main problems we have in high-precision astronomy from the ground is that we see everything through the atmosphere, which creates a distortion that prevents us from seeing the objects as they are,” he explained.
He indicated that this is one of the main reasons why the observatories are in the mountains and not in the valleys, with the aim of having the least possible atmospheric distortion.
“In recent years it has been possible to measure these distortions, making the telescopes adapt to this distortion with a necessary electronic control system. We are talking about thousands of measurements per second,” he said.
In parallel to his professional career, Rahmer works to bring his love of astronomy to the Hispanic community, presenting at schools locally, nationally and internationally.
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