One of the few super-giant telescopes on Earth that aims to revolutionize our view and perception of the universe will be the Giant Magellan Telescope.
It will be constructed at Chile’s Las Campanas Observatory.
In 2021, the telescope is expected to go into service.
The GMT is a segmented mirror telescope which utilizes as segments seven of the largest rigid monolithic mirrors of today. Six 8.4-meter off-axis segments surround the central on-axis section, creating a single 24.5-meter-diameter optical surface with a total area of 368 square meters. The GMT project, which also involves Astronomy Australia Ltd, the Australian National University, the Carnegie Institution for Technology, the Korea Astronomy and Space Science Institute, the São Paulo Research Foundation, the University of Texas at Austin, the University of Texas A&M, the University of Arizona and the University of Chic University are all part of Harvard University and the Smithsonian Institution.
At the Steward Observatory Mirror Lab in Tucson, Arizona, the GMT primary mirrors are made.
They are a wonder of modern engineering and glassmaking; each section is bent in a very precise shape and polished to about one millionth of an inch within one wavelength of light. First, the seven primary mirrors absorb light from the edge of the universe, then the seven smaller secondary mirrors, and then pass down through the central primary mirror hole to create a single focus on one of many advanced light-analyzing methods.
What is called “adaptive optics.” is one of the most advanced technological features of the telescope.
The telescope’s secondary mirrors are adjustable. Hundreds of actuators are under each secondary mirror surface that continuously change the mirrors to counteract atmospheric turbulence.
These actuators can turn twinkling stars into transparent, uniform light points 10 times sharper than those from the Hubble Space Telescope, under the guidance of advanced control systems. In developing and constructing these control systems, scientists and engineers at the Center for Astrophysics play a critical role.
The location of the GMT also offers a crucial benefit in terms of looking through the atmosphere of the Earth.
The Atacama Desert of Chile is one of the highest and driest areas on Earth, where more than 300 nights a year the GMT finds magnificent conditions. Las Campanas Peak has an altitude of over 8,500 feet (2,550 meters) and, due to the lack of rainfall, is almost entirely devoid of vegetation.
Las Campanas Peak is an ideal location for the GMT because of the combination of vision, amount of clear nights, elevation, weather and vegetation.
Perhaps one of the most exciting questions yet to be answered by astronomy is: are we alone? The first advanced instrument designed for the GMT, the GMT Consortium Large Earth Finder, or G-CLEF, whose design and development are being supervised by the Center for Astrophysics, will answer this issue. To have an extremely accurate velocity calculation, G-CLEF has been optimized to allow it to detect the presence of an Earth-sized exoplanet orbiting a Sun-like star.
In 21st-century astronomy, GMT’s unparalleled light-gathering potential and resolution will also help with many other interesting questions.
What is dark matter and what is dark energy, two enigmatic objects that make up much of our universe? How did the first stars form from the Big Bang’s diffuse gas? How did they shape the first galaxies? What is the universe’s fate?