Deep in Northern Chile’s Atacama Desert sits the foundation for the largest and most powerful telescope ever developed by humans. Since first breaking ground in 2015, construction of the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT) has been tedious. However, the University of Texas hopes to revitalize the program by upping its commitment to $110.3 million by adding another $45 million to its previous contribution.
According to a release by UT Austin, the GMT is expected to “produce images 10 times as sharp as those delivered by the Hubble Space Telescope and will address key questions in cosmology, astrophysics, and the study of planets outside our solar system.”
To achieve such an advanced viewing capability, the GMT will use seven massive mirrors, each 27 feet across, to reflect light inside a 12-story facility.
The GMT is owned by the Giant Magellan Telescope Organization (GMTO) Corporation, an international nonprofit headquartered in Pasadena, California. It is overseen by 13 universities and research institutions from five countries. Partners of the GMTO include the University of Texas along with six other universities in the U.S.
“The recent contributions from our investing partners in the Giant Magellan Telescope are collectively pushing the boundaries of astronomy, making the future a reality and allowing us to answer some key science goals, including ‘Are we alone in the universe?'” said Walter Massey, GMT board chair.
With a total of $205 million of funding already being put into use, six mirrors have been completed, and the construction of the 40,000 sq ft. mirror housing is underway in Illinois.
When creating an ultra-precise telescope, there is no room for error. The entire telescope body, weighing 2,100 tons, will float on a layer of oil only two one-thousandths of an inch thick to be able to move with the earth’s rotation. To effectively reflect light, each mirror must be polished to an accuracy of one-millionth of an inch.
“The highest technical risks have been retired, and we are looking forward to bringing the components of the telescope together on the mountain top,” stated Patrick McCarthy, president of the GMTO.
Completion of the telescope has been an international effort, with portions of the technology being built in Italy, France, Chile, and the United States.
Initially, the telescope was set to be operational in 2021 using basic mirror systems, but the official “first light” of the telescope is expected to occur near the end of the decade.