Part of world’s largest telescope to be built at University of Arizona

(Photo: Giant Magellan Telescope – GMTO Corp.)

PHOENIX — Seven giant mirrors that will make up part of the world’s largest telescope will be built at the University of Arizona in Tucson.

“The project is the Giant Magellan Telescope,” said Jared Males, assistant astronomer at Stewart Observatory at the University of Arizona.

Each mirror is 8.4 meters across — more than 27 feet — and takes two years to make, from start to finish.

“We’ve already made five of them,” Males said. “Twenty tons of glass goes into a giant mirror and gets melted at something like 2,100 degrees Fahrenheit.”

The telescope will have an array of uses, including scanning alien planets for signs of life, which is Males is hoping to use it for.

“What we want to do is actually look at a planet that looks like the earth and check it to see if it has oxygen and water and methane and CO2 in its atmosphere,” he said.

“And if we see the right combination of those kinds of molecules, then we’ll start to wonder if maybe there’s life on the surface of that planet.”

But Males said the biggest comparison between this telescope and other telescopes is the resolution.

“When you take an image of two stars next to each other, [you have] to be able to tell that there are two stars there,” he said. “If they’re not resolved, they don’t look like two stars, they look like one star.”

The Giant Magellan Telescope is expected to be completed in the mid 2020s and will be located at the Las Campanas Observatory in the Atacama Desert in northern Chile.

The lid of the furnace for GMT mirror 5 is positioned over the furnace, ready to be lowered in place. (Photo: Giant Magellan Telescope – GMTO Corp.)more
To ensure even distribution of the molten glass and to create the parabolic shape of the mirror segment, the furnace rotates at just under five revolutions per minute. Shown here is the furnace during the casting of GMT mirror 3 in 2013. (Photo: Giant Magellan Telescope – GMTO Corp.)more
An artist's impression of the finished Giant Magellan Telescope with its flowerlike primary mirror design of six circular segments surrounding a seventh in the center (Photo: Giant Magellan Telescope – GMTO Corp.)more
Members of the media and UA researchers took a tour of the Richard F. Caris Mirror Lab on Friday during the GMT’s mirror casting ceremony. (Photo: John de Dios/UANews)more