If we think about NASA and other observing stations across the world, we would not think of a multiple mirror telescope as being a small item, and indeed the first multiple mirror telescope was definitely not! Starting off its life in Arizona as 6 individual mirrors each spanning approximately 1.8m in diameter to be used in Military satellite installations. These mirrors were taken over by the Smithsonian and in 1979, after the Cold War. Built on Mt. Hopkins, the first multiple mirror telescope the overall size when mounted on a lightweight, small frame, measured about 4.5m in diameter. A multiple mirror telescope measuring 6.1 m in diameter has since surpassed it.
However, although it performed well, this first multiple mirror telescope was not without glitches. The combined diameter of all 6 mirrors measured about 4.5m across and it was sometimes difficult to get this multiple mirror telescope operating as one by getting the mirrors to focus on exactly the same spot at the same time.
Since then much larger multiple mirror telescopes have been constructed. An example of this is the SALT telescope. Being amongst one of the largest telescopes in the world, but THE largest Refractory, this telescope resides in a town called Sutherland in the Cape Province of South Africa. It measures approximately 11m in diameter!
The mirrors on this Telescope look like the honeycomb you would find in a beehive. This is a new technology which allows future builders to make even larger telescopes, larger than we can possibly imagine, and will not be able to be constructed with single mirror Telescopes.
Most of the challenges faced while building multiple mirror telescopes have been overcome, and the â€˜sky is the limitâ€™ for Engineers now. In fact, a 30m Telescope is under development right now, consisting of segmented mirrors, it is purported to be unmatched in performance and should be completed in 2017, or thereabouts.
No! Definitely not! They are HUGE. Apart from that, they are complicated, they need to be calibrated to a fraction of a degree and computers, which have been programmed with endless mathematical equations, operate them.
The only multiple mirror telescope anybody would be able to make would in the form of a scale mode. Telescope mirror kits can be found and building one would be fun to make, at the same time as satisfying the curiosity of anyone who has ever wondered how they are designed.