The Large Binocular Telescope Interferometer (LBTI) involves a collaborative effort among the Italian astronomical community (represented by the Instituto Nazionale di Astrofisica [INAF]), the University of Arizona, and other academic and research partners—including a consortium of German institutes and observatories called LBT Beteiligungsgesellschaft (LBTB). The LBTI is capable of directly detecting giant planets beyond humans' solar system. The system consists of two 27.6-feet- (8.4-m-) diameter primary mirror telescopes located side by side on Mount Graham, Arizona. This arrangement produces a collecting area that is equivalent to a 39-foot (11.8-m) circular aperture. The two telescopes are connected to form an infrared radiometer with a maximum baseline of 75 feet (22.8 m). The astronomical facility achieved "first light" on October 12, 2005.
Because of its unique geometry and relatively direct optical path, the LBTI provides science capabilities that are different from other interferometers. For example, LBTI provides high-resolution images of many faint objects over a wide field-of-view, including distant galaxies with 10 times the resolution of the Hubble Space Telescope (HST). Of special interest to extrasolar planet hunters is the fact that nulling techniques allow the LBTI to study emissions from faint dust clouds around other stars. Since these dust clouds reflect light and give off heat (thermal radiation), they can interfere with the search for extrasolar planets. So by helping scientists characterize these dust cloud emissions in nearby star systems, the LBTI is supplying very useful data to the NASA scientists and engineers, who are now responsible for the design and development of advanced planet-hunting space missions, such as the Terrestrial Planet Finder (TPF). (Chapter 7 provides additional discussion on this important topic.)
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