Contractor clears ground for Discovery Channel Telescope

Just outside Flagstaff, Ariz., construction of the fifth largest telescope in the continental United States – and the metal building that will house it – is on the move.

Contractors for Discovery Corporation and Lowell Observatory broke ground July 13 for the Discovery Channel Telescope’s 85-foot tall, 62-foot diameter building. Eagle Mountain Construction cleared a little less than an acre of land and completed the access road and drainage work for the site in June.

Researchers plan to use the $35 million telescope, which should be in operation by 2009, to look for near-Earth asteroids, planets orbiting other stars and Kuiper Belt objects, a group of icy bodies on the edge of the solar system.

“It’s beautiful out there,” said Keith Johansen, president of EMC. “We finished the roads – out in the boondocks – about a month ago, but we’re looking up prices to do some more concrete work and drainage pipes. We’ll also be putting some aggregate gravel down on the roads.”

Johansen said his company started clearing the grounds in October 2004.

According to Lowell, the telescope will survey an area of the sky equal to the size of 16 full moons in a single shot, greatly exceeding the capabilities of existing telescopes of its class. The mirror alone will be 4.2 meters across and weigh 6,700 pounds.

“Lowell Observatory is excited about the project, and sees the construction of a large modern telescope as key in its long-term plans to lead the field of astronomical research,” said Byron Smith, project manager for Lowell.

The metal building for DCT will be located at an altitude of 7,760 feet on the edge of Mogollon Rim, according to Lowell. The observatory’s special use agreement with the U.S. Forest Service covers a 60-acre parcel of land.