Progress in astrophysics thanks to ballscrews

(Astro)Physics, the science of measuring, counting and understanding. So what do Swiss ballscrews have to do with it? Worldwide, there are a total of four large latest-generation Cherenkov telescopes: Australia, Namibia, La Palma and the USA. Around 4000 electrically driven, cold-rolled ballscrews help researchers to observe the cosmos from the Canary Island and to gain more knowledge about mysterious objects and extreme events in the universe. Positioning the telescopes in the northern and southern hemispheres allows for optimal monitoring. Just what exactly do these observations accomplish and how does Eichenberger Gewinde AG play a role in such valuable findings?



The two MAGIC telescopes (Major Atmospheric Gamma-Ray Imaging Cherenkov) are the most sensitive and largest Cherenkov telescopes in the world, each with a total mirror area of 17 metres in diameter. This is of special relevance for energy ranges below 200 gigaelectronvolts (GeV). MAGIC focuses on objects emitting gamma rays from 30 GeV up to 100 TeV (teraelectron volts). The telescope duo is located 2400 metres above sea level, where abundant clear skies and negligible light pollution provide ideal conditions for observation.

On La Palma, the earth's atmosphere is transformed into a gigantic particle detector. Within a few seconds, the MAGIC telescopes can be focused on any point in the universe. The fact that the telescopes can align themselves so quickly with the source of a gamma-ray burst is explained by their powerful drives and comparatively low weight. A total of 947 aluminium mirror segments mounted on support plates form 247 m² of mirror surface. Each of these 50 x 50 cm mirror plates is driven from both sides by a remarkably nimble and hard-wearing Carry 12 x 2 mm ballscrew. Exceedingly precise and incredibly fast, these effective, cold-rolled lead screws align the individual mirrors to a pre-adjusted laser dot.

Normally, the gamma sources in the universe can only be studied from satellites, because gamma radiation cannot pass through the atmosphere. However, the stream of cosmic gamma photons drops sharply at higher energies, which means that space observatories are no longer suitable to study them. Although the gamma ray flashes are invisible to the human eye, the cameras in the MAGIC telescopes detect the flashes reflected by the mirrors. The electronic systems then process the pulses. Using computer programmes and simulations, it is now possible to reconstruct which particles have descended, those of no interest and the ones that can ultimately provide information about where in space and which energy the gamma rays have come from.


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Astrophysicists conduct research with huge telescopes. The mirror plates of the telescopes
are driven with ballscrews. Supernova remnants, active galactic nuclei,
black holes and pulsars are now observed regularly.

Astrophysical findings are extremely valuable

Physics cannot invent things and biology alone does not cure anything. Engineers and medical scientists typically draw on basic research, either conducted in space or from astronomy. Astrophysics addresses the physical principles underlying exploration of celestial phenomena and is a sub-field of astronomy. Various technological developments from these observations have found their way into our everyday lives as well as into scientific fields (medicine, biology, materials research). Countless technical applications are derived from research in the field of radiation:

  • CCD-chips are now used universally in digital cameras.

  • Programming languages such as Forth or IDL, originally developed for astronomical applications, are now used in industry.

  • (Commercial) satellites use astronomical techniques based on observations of the stars to determine their position.

  • Materials developed for the construction of large telescopes are used for solar collectors.

  • Nuclear medicine uses detector systems and electronic readers originally developed for basic research in nuclear and particle physics for imaging procedures such as computer-assisted tomography (CT), positron emission tomography (PET) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Both PET and tumour therapy with radiopharmaceuticals make targeted use of radioisotopes.

  • The use of ion beams for tumour therapy in the fight against cancer was developed shortly after the development of the first accelerators. Today, gamma rays, proton and heavy ion beams together with neutrons are successfully used for the irradiation of tumours. Radiation of this kind is also used intensively at the ion microprobe SNAKE at the MLL tandem accelerator for radiobiological research at the cell and tissue level to gain greater understanding of the repair mechanisms in biological cells.
  • Sensors developed to control telescopes are used to monitor the temperature of incubators used for babies.
  • A technique for enhancing the imaging quality of radio astronomical imagery is now used everywhere in Wi-Fi networks.
  • Gas chromatic analysis on baggage at airports screening for explosives and drugs stems from a mission to Mars.
  • Methodological and technological developments from nuclear, particle and astroparticle physics have led to a multitude of applications in other scientific fields over the years. For example, nowadays ion and neutron beams are indispensable in such diverse applications as the production of microelectronic components, surface coating, manufacturing of new materials and functional fabrics, analysis of materials, works of art, archaeological artefacts and biological cell and tissue samples, as well as medical therapy. Neutron scattering has developed into an independent field in condensed matter physics.

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Nimble ballscrews open the window to the universe.

Ballscrews for performance and functional reliability


In 2020, the two MAGIC telescopes registered a gamma-ray burst with an intensity that surpassed all previous measurements. But there was more to the observational data: analysis enabled scientists to confirm that the speed of light in a vacuum is constant and does not depend on the energy of the light particles... all theories must be validated or disproven by data. Physics is the science of measuring, counting and understanding. Unless there is a rapid response at such moments, unique opportunities for significant findings are lost.

The two 70-ton instruments can be rotated to any position in less than 20 seconds. To ensure that the mosaic-like telescopes can respond so rapidly with such extraordinary precision, an engineering masterpiece is called for, and the reliability of the mechanical drive elements is absolutely crucial. Regardless of the most adverse weather conditions and extreme temperature differences, the screw drives must be absolutely fail-safe in their performance.

Which is what they do, because Eichenberger Gewinde AG offers exceptional quality. It begins with the development and tailoring of the optimum thread geometry for special applications. Careful material selection and modern manufacturing processes result in robust, high-efficiency, wear-free products that retain their intrinsic value over a long life cycle.

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Ballscrew 12x2 with single-thread ball return

Regardless of the specific requirements

Designers routinely face the task of determining the appropriate drive technology needed to perform linear motions. Often, exact positioning and high frequency oscillating motions with minimal strokes or highly dynamic continuous operation have to be mastered. Safety and reliability are the focus. Small installation space with high loads is a frequent challenge. Maintenance and service life not to mention costs also play an important role. The Eichenberger thread rolling spindle technology (cold forming of the lateral surface of round parts) combines the maximum load capacity and force density with enormous dynamics and precision for utmost running performance.




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