A&M lab is making key components to build world’s largest telescope

Video: Giant Magellan Telescope Organization

Eleven international partners – including Texas A&M University – have committed more than $500 million to start construction of the largest optical telescope in the world, the Giant Magellan Telescope Organization (GMTO) announced on June 3.

The Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT) is expected to view its first light in 2021 and become fully operational by 2024. Texas A&M researchers are constructing key components of the telescope, and the GMTO’s president is also a Faculty Fellow at the Texas A&M Institute for Advanced Study (TIAS).

The massive telescope will be the first of a new generation of extremely large telescopes, and will focus more than six times the amount of light of the current largest optical telescopes into images up to 10 times sharper than those of the Hubble Space Telescope.

The GMT will merge lasers with an adaptable optics system that hinges on state-of-the-art astronomical instrumentation, including first-light devices and measurement systems being built and assembled within Texas A&M’s Munnerlyn Astronomical Instrumentation Laboratory.

“The start of construction of the GMT is a major milestone for our program, and we are excited by the opportunity to build instruments for the first of the next generation of telescopes,” said Texas A&M astronomer and GMTO board member Darren DePoy, who directs the Munnerlyn Lab and serves as deputy director of the George P. and Cynthia Woods Mitchell Institute for Fundamental Physics and Astronomy. “The spectrograph will enable key capabilities like the study of the most distant galaxies and stars in the universe, determination of the atmospheric composition of exoplanets, and investigations into the nature of dark matter and dark energy. At this point, we are focused on creating the best instrument possible.”

The massive telescope will allow astronomers to peer deeper into space and further back in time than ever before.

Wendy Freedman, chair of the GMTO’s Board of Directors, and a university professor of astronomy and astrophysics at the University of Chicago, said, “The GMT will herald the beginning of a new era in astronomy. It will reveal the first objects to emit light in the universe, explore the mysteries of dark energy and dark matter, and identify potentially habitable planets in the Earth’s galactic neighborhood. The decision by the GMTO partner institutions to start construction is a crucial milestone on our journey to making these amazing discoveries using state-of-the-art science, technology and engineering.”

GMTO President Edward Moses, a current TIAS Faculty Fellow, said, “The GMT is a global scientific collaboration, with institutional partners in Australia, Brazil, Korea, the United States and in host nation Chile. The construction approval means work will begin on the telescope’s core structure and the scientific instruments that lie at the heart of this US $1 billion project. Early preparation for construction has included groundwork at the mountaintop site at Las Campanas in northern Chile, and initial fabrication of the telescope’s seven enormous primary mirror segments.”

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