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’s 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 created the EarthSky radio series in 1991 and EarthSky.org in 1994. Today, she serves as Editor-in-Chief of this website. She has won a galaxy of awards from the broadcasting and science communities, including having an asteroid named 3505 Byrd in her honor. A science communicator and educator since 1976, Byrd believes in science as a force for good in the world and a vital tool for the 21st century. "Being an EarthSky editor is like hosting a big global party for cool nature-lovers," she says.