BIG motion: Ultra-precise positioning for the largest telescope in the northern hemisphere

After seven years of construction, the largest optical telescope in the northern hemisphere, the Gran Telescopio Canarias (Grantecan) on La Palma, Spain, has begun trial operation. Heidenhain model ERA 780C angle encoders are being used to position the telescope. The telescope rotates about two axes: elevation (vertical motion) and azimuth (horizontal motion); earth motion also requires compensation during the sometimes hour-long observations.


Schaumburg, IL — After seven years of construction, the largest optical telescope in the northern hemisphere, the Gran Telescopio Canarias (Grantecan) on La Palma, Spain, has begun trial operation. Heidenhain model ERA 780C angle encoders are being used to position the telescope — a solution that has already proven itself in numerous telescope projects. The telescope rotates about two axes: elevation (vertical motion) and azimuth (horizontal motion). In addition, the motion of the earth has to be compensated during the sometimes hour-long observations.
The angle of the azimuth axis is measured over a diameter of about 15 meters, which requires a scale tape with a length of 48.48 meters. 1,212,000 lines with the scale-tape grating period of 40Calibration and compensation of systematic errors bring a system accuracy of 0.06 arc secs (1.7E-5º) over 13.2°. Each scale is installed in a slot about the respective axis of motion and is provided with a suitable number of measuring heads.
The 105 million euro system is now in a test phase lasting one year. The hyperbolic telescope mirror consisting of 36 hexagonal segments will be expanded segment by segment until it reaches the total diameter of 10.4 meters. At the same time, all instruments will be adjusted. When ready for operation, the telescope will focus four million times more accurately than the human eye. It will enable astronomers to detect more details than ever before.
Edited by C.G. Masi , senior editor
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