The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory is working with a group of international partners to build the first of a new generation of the world’s largest and most powerful telescopes. Upon completion, the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT) will be the largest optical telescope in the world, producing images of the universe with 10 times the clarity of the Hubble Space Telescope.
Slated to become operational by 2021, the GMT will explore the distant universe and look for signs of life outside our planet.
Preparations are already underway in the Chilean Andes at the Las Campanas Observatory. Here, in the remote Atacama Desert, the GMT will profit from some of the clearest, driest skies on Earth. When finished, the telescope will stand 25-meters high, with seven of the largest telescope mirrors ever employed. Each mirror will be 8.4 meters in diameter and together will provide more than 380 meters, or 4,000 square feet, of light-collecting area. The GMT primary mirrors are being made at the Steward Observatory Mirror Lab (SOML) in Tucson, Arizona.
Smithsonian partners in the GMT Consortium include the Australian National University, Astronomy Australia Limited, the Carnegie Institution for Science, Harvard University, the Korea Astronomy and Space Science Institute, the Sao Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP), the University of Texas at Austin, Texas A&M University, the University of Arizona, and the University of Chicago.
The international GMT Consortium selected the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory to design and build the GMT-Consortium Large Earth Finder (G-CLEF), a powerful new spectrograph tool. G-CLEF will be the only instrument attached to the GMT initially. Together, GMT and G-CLEF will be able to detect worlds the size of Earth, located in the warm, habitable zones of distant stars.
This first-of-its-kind telescope will be capable of exploring the ancient past of the universe, probing the Big Bang and the formation of the first stars, galaxies, and black holes. Many of the discoveries the GMT will make possible are unknown, but with this new technology scientists may be able to answer the perennial question, “Are we alone in the universe?”
Andrew Szentgyorgyi is the Associate Director for the Solar, Stellar, and Planetary Sciences Division at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA). He specializes in optical instrumentation. He received his PhD in physics at the University of Wisconsin in 1986, building an atmospheric Cherenkov telescope on Maui to search for sources of very high energy (1 TeV) gamma rays. After graduate school, he joined the Columbia University faculty, concentrating on X-ray astronomy instrumentation. Dr.