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I was looking at the Ivanpah Solar facility and it occurred to me that the large array of mirrors could double as some sort of telescope array at night. The climate in the desert would be ideal for this, and there would be no power generated at night anyway.

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Any reasonably flat piece of sort-of reflective metal will function perfectly well as a heat collector, but would not be terribly suited to do astronomical observations with.

In principle, you could probably pull it off.

But it would require a lot more accurately shaped mirrors, with a lot better quality reflective surface. Also, there's good reasons many large telescopes have domes around them, and are located on the tops of high mountains. Also, more complex electronics would need to be attached, different collectors need to be built, data must be transferred to inhabited parts of the world, etc. All this drastically increases the cost of the array, which usually already is one of the main prohibitive factors in getting such an array off the ground in the first place.

You could compromise and settle for a telescope that produces very low quality images in far infrared, but with awesome light gathering power. Perhaps it is even possible to use some smart computational techniques to combine a couple of garbage images into a single high-quality one, and still do reasonable science with it. It's at least worth a PhD research.

So in short, yes, I think it's possible. But I expect you can build a good solar array and a good large telescope for less money than this combination.

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Thanks for the insight. I agree that you would be hard pressed to get any worthy visible images out of such a setup. I like the idea of low quality images / data at a longer wavelength, then using computers to clean up and analyze the data. –  aglassman Sep 5 '13 at 19:17

Doesn't warbling surface due to large temperature differentials scare you?

It is one thing to collect light for heating, it is quite another to use adaptive mirrors to watch the stars. The tolerances are very different for both purposes.

Summary: this is a commendable attempt to put to dual use some of our expensive toys, but not a good technical idea IMHO.

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Old engineering principle: each part has a function, and only one. –  babou Sep 5 '13 at 15:55

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