The Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT) project, in which Texas A&M University is a founding partner, has successfully passed two major reviews, completing its detailed design phase and positioning the project to enter the construction phase.
When completed, the 25-meter GMT will have more than six times the collecting area of the largest telescopes today and 10 times the resolution of the Hubble Space Telescope. Scientists will use the GMT to explore distant and potentially habitable planets around other stars, to explore the universe in the first billion years after the Big Bang, and to probe the mysteries of dark matter, dark energy and massive black holes.
During a week-long review in mid January, an international panel of experts examined the design of the giant telescope, its complex optical systems and precision scientific instruments, which include devices built and assembled within Texas A&M’s Munnerlyn Astronomical Instrumentation Laboratory. This panel was made up of experts involved in building telescopes around the world. Their conclusion was that the project meets the technical readiness required to proceed to construction. Immediately following the design review, a team of construction experts scrutinized the project’s cost estimate and management plan. Both review panels endorsed the team’s cost estimate and their approach to managing construction of the telescope atop a remote mountain peak in the Chilean Andes.
Richard Kurz, former project manager for the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) and chair of the external panel that reviewed the GMT project, noted that the panel enthusiastically recommended that the GMT project “proceed as rapidly as possible to construction.”
“These reviews are critical milestones required by the GMTO Board to proceed with the construction phase,” says Dr. Wendy Freedman, Chair of the GMTO Board of Directors and Director of the Carnegie Observatories. “I am delighted with the very positive results of the design and the cost reviews. Along with the successful casting of the first three 8.4-meter primary mirrors and the leveling of the mountaintop in Chile, each step brings us closer to construction.”
Board members representing the partner research institutions that make up the GMT consortium will meet mid-year to review the construction plan.
Nicholas B. Suntzeff, distinguished professor of physics and astronomy and director of the astronomy program at Texas A&M, noted that this is more than just passing a critical design review — more like the marking of a major validating and potentially history-making milestone.
“We have chosen a design that allows for the building of the telescope such that we can add mirrors as we raise the money,” Suntzeff said. “We were criticized in the early stages by some who said our design was risky or even impossible. Well, the mirrors work, and we can start using the telescope early because of our design. Our telescope concept has paid off.”
University of Chicago President Robert Zimmer commented that, “We are pleased to see this milestone in the development of the Giant Magellan Telescope, which promises many opportunities for University of Chicago scholars. When complete, the telescope’s capabilities will complement current research and offer new avenues to scientists in our Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics and our Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics, among others.”
Harvard astronomer Robert Kirshner said, “The GMT has nimbly cleared this hurdle. We’re on a good trajectory to build this telescope. The GMT will show us how the universe works, from testing whether planets around nearby stars harbor life to moving out the edge of knowledge to examine the first stars and galaxies.”
Though the project has not formally entered the construction phase, the long timelines required to fabricate some elements of the telescope have required early activity. Production of three of the telescope’s seven primary mirror segments is underway; work on the fourth mirror will begin in January 2015. Science operations on GMT will begin in 2020. It will be located at the Las Campanas Observatory in Chile, where the mountaintop construction site has already been leveled.
For more information about the GMT, including design, scope and projected science, visit www.gmto.org.
To learn more about Texas A&M astronomy, visit http://astronomy.tamu.edu.
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About the Giant Magellan Telescope: The Giant Magellan Telescope Organization (GMTO) manages the GMT Project on behalf of its international partners, namely: Astronomy Australia Ltd., the Australian National University, Carnegie Institution for Science, Harvard University, Korea Astronomy and Space Science Institute, Smithsonian Institution, Texas A&M University, the University of Arizona, the University of Chicago, and the University of Texas at Austin. For more information, visit www.gmto.org.
Contacts: Shana K. Hutchins, (979) 862-1237 or firstname.lastname@example.org or Davin Malasarn, (626) 204-0529 or email@example.com