Construction begins on Giant Magellan Telescope

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After 25 years of breathtaking images from the Hubble telescope comes an announcement that space-watchers of all stripes can get behind. A partnership among 11 nations has officially begun work on what will be the largest optical telescope on earth.

Why the Giant Magellan Telescope is a big deal

The Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT) will house seven mirrors spanning 25 meters that will be capable of focusing over six times the amount of light of current large optical telescopes, and produce images up to ten times sharper than those produced by Hubble.

Giant Magellan Telescope

A concept of the GMT’s massive mirrors (gmto.org).

But the GMT’s potential for the collective space exploration endeavor goes beyond sharper images. “The GMT will herald the beginning of a new era in astronomy,” said Wendy Freedman, chair of the Giant Magellan Telescope Organization (GMTO) Board of Directors, in a statement on the GMTO’s website. “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.”

With the Giant Magellan Telescope, scientists will be able to observe some of the oldest, most distant, and therefore faintest objects in space, potentially leading to a richer understanding of the origins of the universe and some of its most perplexing mysteries.

The telescope will sit on the southern end of the mountain ridge of the Las Campanas Observatory in the Atacama Desert. Spreading across the coast of northern Chile near the Peruvian border, the Atacama Desert’s legendary night sky is such that even amateur photos of it capture a view beyond anything most city-dwellers will see in their entire lives. The BBC reports that two and a half thousand cubic meters of rock have been taken out of the mountain ridge in northern Chile to form a flat surface the size of four football fields. Once completed, the telescope will be 22 stories high.

An artist's conception of the GMT at sunset (gmto.org)

An artist’s conception of the GMT at sunset (gmto.org).

For more on the GMT, check out these videos from the organization’s YouTube channel:

The GMT is scheduled to see first light by 2021 and be fully operational by 2024.

About Author

Adam Cameron spent his academic career learning about Iran, but ultimately decided that a job in the military-security-industrial complex just wasn't for him. He worked with Iranian refugees for a few years and has always dreamed of being a writer. He lives in North Hollywood, California in an 8-bit cocoon made out of an elaborate blanket fort covered in Adventure Time posters.

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