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  • Nine Join Telescope Project
Feb 2009
PASADENA, Calif., Feb. 9, 2000 – Harvard University, the Smithsonian Institution and the University of Arizona are among the nine astronomical research organizations from the US, Australia and Korea that have signed an agreement to construct the 25-m Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT) at Las Campanas Observatory in Chile.

The other US institutions are the Carnegie Institution for Science, Texas A&M University and the University of Texas at Austin. The two Australian members of the founders group are the Australian National University and Astronomy Australia Limited. The South Korean government has also approved participation in the GMT project, with the Korean Astronomy and Space Science Institute as the representative of the Korean astronomical community.

This artist’s rendering shows the Giant Magellan Telescope and support facilities at Las Campanas Observatory in Chile, high in the Andes Mountains. (Todd Mason/Mason Productions)

The founders agreement establishes the framework for construction and operation of the telescope, which, with its seven co-mounted 8.4-m primary segments and adaptive secondary system, will provide unique capabilities in optical and infrared astronomy.

The GMT is expected to help explain phenomena that existing facilities cannot, such as the nature of dark matter and dark energy, the origin of the first stars and first galaxies, the mysteries of star and planet formation, galaxy evolution and black hole growth. The GMT will also play a key role in detecting and imaging planets around nearby stars.

Scheduled for completion around 2019, the GMT will have the resolving power of a single 24.5-m (80-ft) primary mirror and will produce images 10 times sharper than the Hubble Space Telescope does from space. Each of the primary mirror segments weighs 20 tons, and the telescope enclosure has a height of about 200 ft.

The project's goal is to complete the detailed design for this telescope over the next two years, with construction scheduled to begin in 2012. The consortium has so far raised $130 million for the $700 million project. GMT_Primary_Mirror.jpg

The GMT’s first 8.4-m (27-ft) primary mirror segment is undergoing polishing at the Steward Observatory Mirror Lab. (SOML/UArizona)

The first of GMT's six “off axis” honeycomb mirrors, cast in 2005, has just been generated to its almost-final surface at the University of Arizona Mirror Lab, and polishing and testing will be completed in early 2010. No off-axis mirror of this size has been made before.

“One of the greatest technical challenges being tackled at the Mirror Lab is polishing and testing the off-axis mirror to an accuracy of one-millionth of an inch,” said Roger Angel, director of the Mirror Lab and director of the Center for Astronomical Adaptive Optics.

The GMT Project team recently decided to build the telescope at Las Campanas Observatory, in the Chilean Andes overlooking the Atacama Desert. Las Campanas is owned and operated by the Carnegie Institution. Two 6.5-m Magellan telescopes have been in operation at Las Campanas since 2000.

“The science opportunities for this telescope are extraordinary,” said astronomer and GMT Acting Director Patrick McCarthy. “It will shed light not only upon the nature of the universe but also on the fundamental laws of physics that govern its evolution. As such, it seems especially fitting that this international founders’ agreement should have been signed in the International Year of Astronomy and the 400th anniversary of the first astronomical use of a telescope by Galileo.”

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The scientific observation of celestial radiation that has reached the vicinity of Earth, and the interpretation of these observations to determine the characteristics of the extraterrestrial bodies and phenomena that have emitted the radiation.
A smooth, highly polished surface, for reflecting light, that may be plane or curved if wanting to focus and or magnify the image formed by the mirror. The actual reflecting surface is usually a thin coating of silver or aluminum on glass.
Pertaining to optics and the phenomena of light.
The technology of generating and harnessing light and other forms of radiant energy whose quantum unit is the photon. The science includes light emission, transmission, deflection, amplification and detection by optical components and instruments, lasers and other light sources, fiber optics, electro-optical instrumentation, related hardware and electronics, and sophisticated systems. The range of applications of photonics extends from energy generation to detection to communications and...
An afocal optical device made up of lenses or mirrors, usually with a magnification greater than unity, that renders distant objects more distinct, by enlarging their images on the retina.
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