Gigantic telescope a step closer

Artist's impression of the Giant Magellan Telescope

Artist's impression of the Giant Magellan Telescope, which will combine seven 8.4-metre primary mirror segments into the equivalent of a 24.5-metre telescope. To be built in Chile, construction will start in 2012.

  • Giant Magellan Telescope to be built in Chile
  • University of Chicago joins the team
  • Will see 100 times fainter than Hubble

The University of Chicago has joined the effort to build the world’s largest telescope, as the quest continues for answers to some the deepest mysteries of modern cosmology.

The University will provide US$50 million to become a founding partner in the project called the Giant Magellan Telescope, which will be able to produce images of objects 100 times fainter than the Hubble Space Telescope can detect.

“The University of Chicago’s Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics is among the best astronomy and astrophysics departments in the country and worldwide,” said Wendy Freedman, director of the Carnegie Observatories and chairperson of the GMT Organisation.

Artist's impression of the Giant Magellan Telescope

Institutions from the USA, Australia and Korea are members of the Giant Magellan Telescope consortium.

“This is exactly the kind of partner we need to make this ambitious telescope project a success.”

The other founding GMT partners are the Carnegie Institution for Science, University of Texas at Austin, Harvard University, Australian National University, Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, University of Arizona, Texas A&M University, Astronomy Australia Ltd, and the Korea Astronomy and Space Science Institute.

Construction of the GMT will begin at Las Campanas Observatory, Chile, in 2012 and will take approximately seven years to complete.

“Chicago has a great tradition in exploring the universe,” said Robert Kirshner, Harvard’s Clowes Professor of Science.

“At the founding of the university, Chicago built the world’s largest telescope at Yerkes, Chicago trained Edwin Hubble, the leading astronomer of the 20th century, and now they’re looking to be leaders in the field for the 21st century.”

GMT will tackle the big questions

UChicago also has committed an additional US$14 million to join the related consortium that currently operates the twin 6.5-metre Magellan Telescopes at Las Campanas. These arrangements guarantee that UChicago scientists will receive a share of observing time on the telescopes, a critical component of pioneering cosmological research.

Artist's impression of the Giant Magellan Telescope

The Giant Magellan Telescope will be able to study astronomical objects 100 times fainter than the Hubble Space Telescope can see.

These telescopes are necessary tools for prying loose answers to the mysteries of dark energy and dark matter, two of the biggest questions confronting modern cosmologists.

Dark energy is a repulsive force of unknown origin that is accelerating the expansion of the universe.

Dark matter is a material of unknown composition that is far more plentiful in the universe than the ordinary matter of everyday life.

Theories and observations have convinced most cosmologists that dark energy and dark matter exist in huge amounts, but their precise nature has remained elusive.

The $700 million GMT will combine seven 8.4-metre primary mirror segments into the equivalent of a 24.5-metre telescope (nearly 82 feet). The first mirror, now under development at the Steward Observatory Mirror Lab at the University of Arizona, will be completed late this year.

Adapted from information issued by the University of Chicago / GMT Consortium.

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