Mountaintop blasting to mine the sky with the giant magellan telescope

March 23, 2012

Astronomers have begun to blast 3 million cubic feet of rock from a mountaintop in the Chilean Andes to make room for what will be the world's largest telescope when completed near the end of the decade. The telescope will be located at the Carnegie Institution's Las Campanas Observatory—one of the world's premier astronomical sites, known for its pristine conditions and clear, dark skies. Over the next few months, more than 70 controlled blasts will break up the rock while leaving a solid bedrock foundation for the telescope and its precision scientific instruments.

The Giant Magellan (GMT) will have unprecedented capabilities, allowing it to peer back to the dawn of time, witnessing the birth of the first stars, galaxies and black holes, while also exploring planetary systems similar to our own around nearby stars in the Milky Way. The GMT will help astronomers probe the nature of dark matter and dark energy, mysterious forms of matter and energy that allow galaxies to form while the expansion of the universe accelerates.

At a ceremony on the mountaintop March 23, Dr. Wendy Freedman, director of the Carnegie Observatories and chair of the Organization (GMTO) said, "Today marks a historic step toward constructing an astronomical telescope larger than any in existence today. Years of testing have shown that Las Campanas is one of the premier observatory sites in the world and the Carnegie Institution is proud to host the GMT."

The Giant Magellan Telescope is being built by a consortium of U.S., South Korean and Australian institutions with funding from both private and public sources. To date 40% of the telescope's ultimate $700M price tag has been committed and active fundraising is underway to secure the remaining funds.

Carnegie president Richard A. Meserve remarked, "The Carnegie Institution has been a world leader in telescope design and construction for over a century, building the largest and most advanced telescopes in the world. We continue this tradition with the GMT and look forward to the exciting scientific bounty it will yield."

In January of this year the partners cast the second of GMT's seven 28-foot diameter primary mirror segments at the University of Arizona's Steward Observatory Mirror Laboratory. The seven primary mirrors, each weighing 20 tons, are the heart of the giant telescope, providing nearly 4,000 square feet of light-gathering area.

Optical scientists at the Mirror Lab are putting the finishing touches on the first mirror segment, whose surface now matches its optical prescription to better than one millionth of an inch. Dr. Patrick McCarthy, the GMT project director, said "2012 is a banner year for the GMT project as we complete the design process, develop the primary mirrors, and begin work on the site in Chile."

Explore further: UA mirror lab to cast first mirror for giant Magellan telescope

Related Stories

First Giant Magellan Telescope Mirror Casting is 'Perfect'

October 28, 2005

The University of Arizona Steward Observatory Mirror Lab's casting of the first mirror for the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT) "appears to be essentially perfect," UA Steward Observatory director Peter Strittmatter said after ...

Giant Magellan telescope site selected

October 4, 2007

The Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT) Consortium announces that the GMT will be constructed at Cerro Las Campanas, Chile. This location was selected for its high altitude, dry climate, dark skies, and unsurpassed seeing quality, ...

Australia gets $72 million for the Giant Magellan Telescope

July 28, 2009

Pasadena, CA-The Australian government has announced that it will provide $88.4 million AUD ($72.4 million USD) to help fund the revolutionary 25-meter Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT) to be sited at Las Campanas Observatory ...

UA makes mirrors for world's largest telescope

January 18, 2012

(PhysOrg.com) -- The second of seven 27-foot diameter mirrors for the Giant Magellan Telescope was cast on Jan. 14 inside a rotating furnace at the UA's Steward Observatory Mirror Lab.

Recommended for you

Dense star clusters shown to be binary black hole factories

July 29, 2015

The coalescence of two black holes—a very violent and exotic event—is one of the most sought-after observations of modern astronomy. But, as these mergers emit no light of any kind, finding such elusive events has been ...

Image: Hubble sees a dying star's final moments

July 31, 2015

A dying star's final moments are captured in this image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. The death throes of this star may only last mere moments on a cosmological timescale, but this star's demise is still quite ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.