The Carnegie Observatories of the Carnegie Institution, and the University of Arizona, Steward Observatory Mirror Lab, have signed an agreement to produce the first mirror for the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT)?the first telescope of the next-generation of extremely large ground-based telescopes ( ELT) to begin mirror production. The telescope primary mirror will have a diameter of 83 feet (25.4 meters) with more than 4.5 times the collecting area of any current optical telescope.
?This agreement is historic for the future of astronomy,? stated Dr. Richard Meserve, president of the Carnegie Institution. ?It is the first of many milestones that we and our partners look forward to?both in constructing an enormous ground-based telescope and in the scientific discoveries that will result. Everyone in the eight-member GMT consortium is extremely excited by this step,? he added. The consortium includes the Carnegie Observatories, Harvard University, Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, University of Arizona, University of Michigan, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Texas at Austin, and Texas A&M University.
The GMT is slated for completion in 2016 at a site in Northern Chile. Viewing conditions in Chile, such as at Carnegie’s Las Campanas Observatory, are some of the best in the world. The GMT will have ten times the resolution of the Hubble Space Telescope. With its powerful resolution and enormous collecting area, the GMT will be able to probe the secrets of planets that have formed around other stars in the Milky Way, peer back in time toward the Big Bang with unprecedented clarity, delve into the nature of dark matter and dark energy, and explore the formation of black holes?the most important questions in astronomy today.
?The Giant Magellan Telescope will allow an unprecedented view of extrasolar planets as well as a window out to the largest scales and back to the earliest moments of the universe. We plan to complete the GMT so that it will work in tandem with the future generation of planned ground- and space-based telescopes,? stated Dr. Wendy Freedman, director of the Carnegie Observatories. ?The real distinction of the GMT, however, is that it is building on a heritage of successful technology developed for the twin 6.5-meter Magellan telescopes at Las Campanas. Their performance has far exceeded our expectations. The Magellan telescopes have proven to be the best natural imaging telescopes on the ground, due in large part to the genius of its Project Scientist, Carnegie Observatories? Stephen Shectman, and Roger Angel and his team at the Steward Mirror Lab,? she continued.
The mirrors for the GMT will be made using the existing infrastructure at Steward that made the 6.5-meter Magellan mirrors and the 8.4-meter Large Binocular Telescope mirrors on Mt. Graham. The new telescope will be composed of seven, 8.4-meter primary mirrors, arranged in a floral pattern. One spare off-axis mirror will also be made. Seven of the eight mirrors will be off-axis and require new techniques in casting and polishing. The first off-axis mirror will be cast this coming summer (2005) to address the new challenges. ?The upcoming decade promises to be a very exciting one for astronomy. The National Academy of Sciences Astronomy and Astrophysics Survey Committee Report (2001) ranked the science for extremely large telescopes as the highest priority for ground-based optical astronomy,? said Jeremy Mould, Director of the National Optical Astronomy Observatory. Site testing at the Las Campanas Observatory is also underway along with many other aspects of the project. Detailed information about the design of the GMT and the science that it will perform is located at http://www.gmto.org/.
Original Source: Carnegie News Release