The Núcleo Milenio de Formación Planetaria, NPF, works in collaboration with the Centro Tecnológico de Valparaíso, CCTVal, in the production of carbon fiber astronomical mirrors made entirely in Chile and recently managed to observe the first celestial object with one of these mirrors.
July 2020 was a historic month for the Núcleo Milenio de Formación Planetaria: after two and a half years of hard work, the first astronomical object with a carbon fiber mirror manufactured within the NPF/CCTVal collaboration was observed. This mirror, 19 centimeters in diameter, allowed us to obtain a very detailed image of the moon, even though it was not aluminized.. This “first light” of NPF is a great milestone that points to one of the main objectives of the centre, to design and produce the mirrors indispensable for the success of “Planet Formation Imager” (PFI), a project whose main objective is to spatially resolve the gravitational radius of action of a planet in formation in the thermal infrared. One of the goal of NPF is to position Chile as a leader in one of the fundamental parts of the development of a new generation of astronomical instruments..
The observation of the Moon corresponds to an extremely important milestone for the center, since this was achieved with a mirror that did not even have a metal layer on top that would better reflect the light and it was mounted on a homemade telescope that does not track the movement of celestial objects.
This first light was obtained by Claudio Lobos, researcher of the NPF and the “master polisher” of the group, who, after the arrival of the COVID-19 to the country, has worked from his own workshop. There, he adapted a PVC structure (like those used for gutters) to mount the mirror and observe the moon. He then photographed it with his cellphone, through the ocular of the telescope.. The carbon fiber mirror used is 19 cm in diameter, but the tube Lobos was able to adapt was 17 cm, reducing the size of the mirror to that size. “As the tube is smaller, the mirror was out, and I had to improvise. With respect to the mirror, I gathered everything I had learned and with the help of the team I was able to correct some things. I chose the replica with the best surface quality and without astigmatism, I assembled the telescope as I could and took the picture. The emotion of seeing the Moon even though it was a small size telescope was enormous, since I could see details that the eye could not. There is still a lot to be solved, but we are already getting to something important”, Lobos emphasizes.
“The project is very complicated and we start from a fairly low base with a very ambitious goal. We still have a long way to go, but it is really remarkable that in Chile we can make surfaces of this type with this material and in the conditions in which we are working,” points out Amelia Bayo, director of the Núcleo Milenio de Formación Planetaria.
The astrophysicist, who is also an academic at the Instituto de Física y Astronomía at Universidad de Valparaiso and is part of the Centro Tecnológico de Valparaíso, highlights that this shows in a very convincing way how far the team has come. “The response of the entire group was one of total joy and pride in belonging to this project. For me, and in a very personal way, it is an enormous pride. I am proud of the progress of the group, of how we have found a way of working where comradeship was not at odds with seriousness and where we really all driven with the same goal,” she emphasizes.
Pedro Mardones, in charge of the technical coordination of the group developing the carbon fiber mirrors, says that in early 2020 they managed to have an incredibly good microscopic quality, which is basically determined by the quality of the mold used to make the carbon fiber mirror. “The photo obtained, while far from being the quality NPF is looking for, meant overcoming several obstacles that seemed insurmountable a couple of years ago. Most of the time the paths we explored led nowhere, but we always learned something. However, persistence and systemic approach ends up being rewarding. In other words: the scientific method pays”, concludes Mardones.
The NPF is a collaborative project hosted by the Universidad of Valparaíso and the Universidad Técnica Federico Santa María, and financed by the Iniciativa Científica Milenio. In the area of carbon fiber mirrors there is a strategic alliance with the Centro Tecnológico de Valparaíso (CCTVal) and the project has been supported by funds from the ESO-Government of Chile Joint Committee and ANID via QUIMAL and ALMA projects.