"It's Magic" – Where ballscrews chase blue lightening bolts

"Space - unending expanses. The year is 2200." Recognise it? It is how the television series Starship Enterprise begins. Mankind has been fascinated by the view of outer space for as long as history has existed, however, far before 2200. The inherent beauty of the sparkle in the night is so immediately intriguing even if we don't know anything about astronomy. The Swiss thread specialist Eichenberger demonstrates once again that it can combine customer requirements and performance standards with solutions. Some 4000 ballscrews move at dazzling speed to provide unique insights into the cosmos that excite astronomers around the world.


World-class operating conditions for the observatory and telescopes


MAGIC I and II are the two largest airborne Cherenkov telescopes in the world. The sister telescopes stand at an altitude of about 2300 metres on the highest mountain of the Canarian island of La Palma, some 85 metres apart. The rugged ridge of the massive volcanic range in the north of the island is called Roque de los Muchachos, or " Tower of the Boys". Up there above the Atlantic Ocean, there are actually many things that, as clichés go, are more fun for men. Starting with the approach through what feels like a hundred hairpin bends and along precipices that in your mind you can imagine seeing burning jeeps plunging over them in the next James Bond film. It wouldn't be the first Bond to be filmed on the grounds of an astronomical observatory.

La Palma is small and quiet, nevertheless it is one of the most important places in the world. Only at night can you see the wonder of the island: the most beautiful starry sky - as is well known. On the Roque de los Muchachos, conditions are almost ideal for astronomical observation and research. Clouds brought by the trade winds from the north-east cling to the north-eastern face of the mountain, where it often rains. In contrast, the telescopes are located in the northwest, high above the ocean. The dry and almost particle-free atmosphere at 2400 metres and low light pollution on La Palma do the rest enabling excellent images via built-in cameras and telescopes.

 

shutterstock_1675294183 La Palma Foto 6
 Ballscrews are the heart of each of the small drive units on the side
of the mirrors. The whole island is a UNESCO protected area that safeguards
the quality and natural darkness of the sky.



Blue gamma ray bursts, the most violent explosions in the universe
screw drives from Switzerland make them visible


Astronomers cannot see objects they observe directly, instead they see only the high-energy gamma rays that are produced in their vicinity. Their particles, so-called gamma quanta, travel in a straight line through the universe at the speed of light. What is so fascinating is that the particles, or gamma photons, reach Earth, sometimes after billions of years of travelling through the cosmos, scientists can deduce their origin and the circumstances of their formation. Researchers also hope to find insights into possible divergences from Einstein's theory of relativity.

The photons collide with the earth's atmosphere at an altitude of about eight kilometres and begin to interact with the molecules in the air. This is fortunate since gamma rays are powerful enough to kill us. However, this results in a chain reaction with breathtaking consequences: a harmless particle shower. These particles are captured using the MAGIC telescopes. Blue flashes are produced because the photons are very fast. This light is called Cherenkov light and the telescopes are named after the Soviet physicist Pavel Cherenkov, who discovered the light in the 1930s.

On La Palma, the earth's atmosphere is transformed into a gigantic particle detector. Within a few seconds, two telescopes can be focused on any point in the universe. The fact that the telescopes can focus so quickly on the source of the gamma ray burst is made possible by powerful drive solutions with screw drives and relatively low weight. Each telescope has 947 aluminium mirror segments mounted on support plates, resulting in 247 m2 of mirror surface. Every one of the almost one thousand 50 x 50 cm mirror plates is driven on two sides by an astonishingly nimble and hard-wearing Carry 12 x 2 mm ballscrew. Enormously precise and amazingly fast, these cold-rolled powerhouses align the individual mirrors to a preset laser dot.

 

shutterstock_1880118772 La Palma Foto 7-1

Sudden bursts of gamma rays are the most power
ful explosions in the cosmos. In just one second, as much
energy is released as the sun generates in its entire lifespan.


Cosmic insights made possible by lightweight ballscrews 


At the heart of each of the small drive units are the cold-formed, extremely effective ballscrews. The electrically activated Carry ballscrews convert the rotary motion of the motors into linear motion in the piston rod (?). The service life of the approximately 4000 ballscrews is exceptional. Eichenberger guarantees wear-free, high-efficiency products that retain their intrinsic value throughout an extended life cycle. Space-saving design, high helix angles and low weight mean small motors can be used. Through innovative details and special manufacturing processes, the thread professional Eichenberger creates the conditions for maximum dynamics.

Gamma ray bursts are invisible to the human eye. Targeting them from Earth is a difficult task. They can light up anywhere in the sky at any time and quickly disappear again. That is why the MAGIC telescopes rely on a fully automated system to process satellite signals. In fact, the MAGIC installations are huge. With a diameter of 17 metres each, they are the largest telescope mirrors in the world, and at the same time they are the most rapid. Each of the two 70-ton instruments can be rotated to any position in less than 20 seconds.

 
Version 2-1

Ballscrew 12x2 with single-thread ball return


When absolute reliability is the order of the dax

Why is astronomy so important?

Astrophysics deals with the physical principles of the study of celestial phenomena and is a branch of astronomy. Various technological developments arising from astrophysical observations have found their way into our everyday lives and into other fields of science (medicine, biology, materials research). Many technical applications have been developed and are eagerly awaited for the future. So the costly MAGIC observations are well worth it. About 150 scientists from 24 institutions in nine European countries belong to the MAGIC collaboration. With 150 astronomers, the time available for MAGIC observations always outstrips the demand. The blue flashes burn up in the atmosphere after a few billionths of a second. Yet the MAGIC telescopes are sensitive and fast enough to observe the effect in the sky over La Palma.

Imagine this was once again July 2018 or January 2019 when two violent explosions in galaxies billions of light years away generated the brightest light in the universe. Astronomers were thrown into a frenzy and more than 300 scientists studied the ultra-high energy luminosity. Evidently, the light was produced by the afterglow and not by the supernova explosion itself. You may remember May 2020, when astronomers recorded a kilonova, an even more powerful eruption of illumination, as two neutron stars collided. Scientists now believe that this was the spectacular birth of a magnetar, with a charged core that spins at enormous speed and generates extremely strong magnetic fields, like a dynamo.

Unless such moments are acted upon with lightning speed, unique opportunities for new, significant and extremely valuable findings are lost... Consequently, the reliability of the mechanical drive elements is crucial. The Swiss Carry ballscrew drive guarantees enormous power (efficiency > 0.9) with maximum functional reliability and robustness. Even in the most adverse weather conditions and considerable temperature differences, the cold-rolled, heavy-duty Carry fulfils the task with absolute reliability.


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