Happy 80th birthday, Roger Angel!
The story we tell is that our Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope mirror, the Pope’s scope, was made by an Angel in a synagogue. The synagogue was the old home of the Jewish community on the campus of the University of Arizona, which had become available when Hillel moved into new quarters. The mirror was the first to be made with the technique of melting glass in a spinning oven, allowing it to flow into a perfect parabola while flowing over a set of ceramic blocks to give it a thin but strong honeycomb structure underneath the reflective surface. And the angel, of course, was Roger Angel.
The story I’ve heard is that back in the 1980s, Peter Strittmatter, then director of Steward Observatory at the University of Arizona, Roger Angel, and George Coyne, then director of the Vatican Observatory, used to go out to lunch all the time. (Remember going out to lunch?) So it may have been during one of those informal gatherings that the idea was broached… Roger had demonstrated, successfully, that his technique could make a good mirror. But what to do with the mirror? How about if the Vatican Observatory built a telescope around the mirror?
After a go-ahead from the Vatican (the Pope and Roger met when His Holiness visited Phoenix in 1987) to raise money under his name, and generous donations from donors to the new Vatican Observatory Foundation, notably major grants from Fred Lennon and Thomas Bannan, the telescope was built. The rest, as they say, is history.
Today we celebrate Roger Angel, whose gift to astronomy was… miraculous? Heavenly? If nothing else, it reflects well…