Peter Strittmatter, the new director of Steward Observatory, helped dramatically increase the power of ground-based telescopes in the early 1970’s. Strittmatter’s vision transformed Steward from a modest-sized research facility to a front-line facility. One of Strittmatter’s most significant accomplishments was supporting the creative work of Doctor J. Roger P. Angel, and his experiments with glass. Angel’s work paved the way for Steward’s Observatory Mirror Lab. By the late 1990’s, the Steward Observatory Mirror Lab successfully cast two of the largest mirrors ever made. These two mirrors serve as the “eyes” of the world’s largest optical telescope: the Large Binocular Telescope on Mount Graham, near Tucson. In order to fix the sharpness of the sights seen by the Large Binocular Telescope, experiments in adaptive optics provided the solution. As ground based telescopes increased in size and sensitivity, a radical development for astronomy was to place telescopes in space. Steward Observatory played a key role in the developments of the Hubble, Spitzer, and James Webb space telescopes. The James Webb Space Telescope will observe what is called “first light”: the light generated in the immediate aftermath of the Big Bang.
Back on Earth, the Steward Observatory is helping to build the giant Magellan telescope in Chile’s Atacama Desert. The Magellan telescope is part of a next generation of very large telescopes.