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  • Carnegie Commits to GMT Construction
May 2010
WASHINGTON, May 18, 2010 — At its annual meeting this month, the Carnegie Institution for Science board of trustees enthusiastically endorsed the construction of the proposed Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT). The project will be the first in the next generation of astronomical observatories that will drive new scientific discoveries.

The Carnegie board authorized Pres. Richard A. Meserve to state the institution’s commitment of $59.2 million for the design, construction and commissioning of the telescope to supplement the $19.9 million that Carnegie has already committed to the project. At this time, more that 40 percent of the total funding required to construct the GMT has been committed by the Founding Institutions. It is the board’s hope and expectation that the other partners in the project will soon commit the remainder of the funds that will allow the telescope to be brought into service.

The Giant Magellan Telescope will open new windows to understanding the most important cosmological questions today. (Image: The GMTO and Carnegie Observatories)

The GMT will be built at Carnegie’s Las Campanas Observatory in Chile, and will be operated by a consortium of institutions from the US, South Korea and Australia. Larger and more powerful than any previous optical telescope, it will have ten times the light-gathering power of current ground-based telescopes, and will produce images 10 times sharper than those from the Hubble Space Telescope. The GMT will use the latest in adaptive optics technology to remove blurring caused by the Earth’s atmosphere to produce images with unprecedented sensitivity and clarity.

“This move by the Carnegie board is historic for the future of astronomy,” Meserve said. “The GMT promises to contribute significantly to our understanding of the universe.”

The novel design of the GMT will combine seven 8.4-m primary mirror segments resulting in an equivalent 24.5-m telescope. The first so-called off-axis mirror, under development at the Steward Observatory Mirror Lab at the University of Arizona, will be completed by the end of the year.

The GMT is poised to address some of the most fundamental and outstanding questions in astronomy: the nature of the mysterious dark matter and dark energy, the origin of the first stars and first galaxies, and how stars, galaxies and black holes evolve over time. One of the particular strengths of the GMT will be its ability to image planets around nearby stars and to search for signs of life in their atmospheres.

The Giant Magellan Telescope Organization (GMTO) manages the project. GMTO chairperson and Carnegie Observatories director, Wendy Freedman said, “This is a pivotal step toward the successful completion of this challenging and exciting project. The enormous collective scientific and technical talent in the GMT consortium will allow us to push back the frontiers of astronomy and enable future discoveries. I am delighted at this historic milestone.”

In the US, the participating institutions are the Carnegie Institution for Science, Harvard University, the Smithsonian Institution, Texas A& M University, the University of Arizona 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 approved participation in the GMT project, with the Korea Astronomy and Space Science Institute as the representative of the Korean astronomical community. Both Australia and Korea have funded their 10 percent shares.

The Carnegie Observatories was founded by George Ellery Hale in 1904. Located in Pasadena, Calif., the organization operates telescopes on Cerro Las Campanas, Chile. The Carnegie Institution is a private, nonprofit organization with six research departments throughout the U.S. Carnegie scientists are leaders in plant biology, developmental biology, astronomy, materials science, global ecology, and Earth and planetary science.

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adaptive optics
Optical components or assemblies whose performance is monitored and controlled so as to compensate for aberrations, static or dynamic perturbations such as thermal, mechanical and acoustical disturbances, or to adapt to changing conditions, needs or missions. The most familiar example is the "rubber mirror,'' whose surface shape, and thus reflective qualities, can be controlled by electromechanical means. See also active optics; phase conjugation.
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