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Giant 12-story Telescope Promises Being As Powerful As James Webb

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The Giant Magellan Telescope, which has the world’s biggest mirrors and is the most powerful telescope ever built, said today that it has received a $205 million investment from its international consortium to speed up construction.

With significant contributions from institutions like the Carnegie Institution for Science, Harvard University, the So Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP), The University of Texas at Austin, the University of Arizona, and the University of Chicago, this investment represents one of the largest funding rounds for the telescope since its inception.

Giant 12-story Telescope Promises Being The Best Companion With Powerful James Webb
Giant 12-story Telescope Promises Being The Best Companion With Powerful James Webb

The money will be invested in the creation of the massive 12-story telescope structure at Ingersoll Machine Tools in Illinois, the advancement of the telescope’s seven primary mirrors at the Richard F. Caris Mirror Lab at the University of Arizona, and the construction of one of the most technologically sophisticated scientific spectrograph instruments in Texas.

“We are honored to receive this investment in our future,” says Dr. Robert Shelton, President of Giant Magellan Telescope. “The funding is truly a collaborative effort from our Founders. It will result in the fabrication of the world’s largest mirrors, the giant telescope mount that holds and aligns them, and a science instrument that will allow us to study the chemical evolution of stars and planets like never before.”

The funding was approved following the Giant Magellan Telescope’s evaluation as a key partner of the United States Extremely Large Telescope Program by the National Academy of Sciences Astro2020 Decadal Survey. The program is “absolutely essential if the United States is to maintain a position as a leader in ground-based astronomy,” according to Astro2020.

“Six like-minded Founders of the Giant Magellan Telescope worked together to close the financial gap between the resources we have attracted to build the telescope and what is required to complete it,” adds Dr. Eric Isaacs, President of Carnegie Institution for Science. “This investment will bring the telescope closer to first light and provide the world with transformational knowledge of our Universe. Carnegie is proud to have kickstarted the funding effort and to have worked closely with our peers.”

More than any previous optical telescope before, the Giant Magellan Telescope, which is being built at Carnegie’s Las Campanas Observatory in Chile, will enable astronomers to see farther into space with more clarity.

In addition to being up to 200 times more powerful than current research telescopes, the Giant Magellan Telescope will have 10 times the light-collecting area and 4 times the spatial resolution of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST).

This unprecedented angular resolution, along with JWST’s innovative spectrographs and high contrast cameras, will help scientists make new discoveries.

After the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) identifies the tiniest light sources in space, the next step in the study of their physics and chemistry will be to use the Giant Magellan Telescope.

This involves looking for signs of extraterrestrial life in the atmospheres of possibly habitable planets, examining the earliest galaxies to form in the universe, and gathering information that will help solve the riddles of dark matter, dark energy, black holes, and the creation of the universe.

Dr. Walter Massey, board chair of the Giant Magellan Telescope and former director of the National Science Foundation and chairman of Bank of America, says, “We are working with some of the brightest engineers and scientists at the leading research institutions around the globe.”

The different between James Webb and Giant Magellan Telescope

“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.’”

Over the past few years, the Giant Magellan Telescope has made substantial construction progress. In Tucson, Arizona, six of the seven principal mirror segments have been cast.

Final testing is being done on the third primary mirror segment, which has finished its two-year polishing phase. The 40,000 square foot factory that will be used to create the telescope framework has been built in Rockford, Illinois.

The first adaptive secondary mirror for the telescope is now being manufactured in France and Italy, and preparations are complete for the foundation to be poured at the Chilean construction site.

The Giant Magellan Telescope will be among the first of a new series of very large telescopes to be built thanks to this most recent $205 million fundraising round. We expect first light by the end of the decade.

Image Credit: Getty

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