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Giant Magellan Telescope is a go

Construction phase begins for GMT, to be placed in Chile. At first light in 2021, it’ll be the largest telescope in existence, with images 10 times sharper Hubble’s.

The Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT) project announced this week (June 3, 2015) that its construction phase will now begin. The project’s 11 international partners have secured more than US$500 million to begin work on what they say will be the first of a new generation of large ground-based telescopes and the largest optical telescope in existence. The decision to begin construction initiates final design and fabrication of the GMT, which will be located at Las Campanas Observatory in Chile‚Äôs Atacama Desert.

The Giant Magellan Telescope will have a 25.4-meter (82 feet) primary mirror comprised of seven separate 8.4-meter (27 feet) diameter segments. Each mirror segment weighs 17 tons and takes one year to cast and cool, followed by more than three years of surface generation and meticulous polishing.

GMT collaborators said in a June 3 statement that this new telescope is designed to:

… discover Earth-like planets around nearby stars and the tiny distortions that black holes cause in the light from distant stars and galaxies. It will reveal the faintest objects ever seen in space, including extremely distant and ancient galaxies, the light from which has been traveling to Earth since shortly after the Big Bang, 13.8 billion years ago.

The telescope, which will be housed in a dome 22 stories high, is expected to see first light in 2021 and be fully operational by 2024.

Funding for the project comes from the partner institutions, governments and private donors.

Bottom line: The Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT) – to be placed in Chile – will produce images up to 10 times sharper than those of the Hubble Space Telescope, according to the 11 international partners who are spearheading the project.

Deborah Byrd