Starbugs to replace spectrograph drill plates in telescopes

At our August meeting I presented a short on some new tech in astronomy. The featured device was something called a Starbug, which is a piezoelectric driven small robot. They are called bugs because the piezoelectric locomotion makes a buzzing sound when in operation. It is being applied to a system for configurable fiber optic ports to replace the much more tedious method of drill plates. The drill plate is a metal plate that has holes drilled into it to match a specific piece of the sky using a specific telescope. Fiber-optic lines are then plugged into each hole, matching a specific target (e.g. galaxy, star, or quasar) and the other end of the fiber is plugged into a spectrograph. The drill plate is then placed in the focal plane of the telescope.

Instead of drilling and plugging a one-time use plate, the Starbugs walk across a glass plate to the desired position. Computer programs are being developed to get an array of Starbugs to walk to the optimal position without colliding. Position accuracy of 10 micro-meters can be achieved.

With too much time on your hands, you can even do other things with a Starbug…

The technology is currently being developed on a telescope Australia, but it is being considered for the Giant Magellan Telescope.

Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT)
Artist concept of the Giant Magellan Telescope, currently under construction. The GMT consists of seven 8-meter mirrors arranged to form a single segmented parabola (image credit: GMTO).