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Arizona State University joins effort to construct world’s largest telescope

A rendering of the Giant Magellan Telescope in 2015. (Photo: Mason Media Inc.)
LISTEN: Arizona's top two universities make significant contribution to new giant telescope.

PHOENIX — A second public university in Arizona has joined the quest to construct part of the world’s largest telescope.

Officials with Arizona State University and the University of Arizona will help construct the Giant Magellan Telescope, an intergalactic viewing platform that will be installed in the Las Campanas Observatory in Chile.

Arizona State University’s School of Earth and Space Exploration is tasked with developing the optics, electronics, and equipment that will take in what the telescope sees, evaluates and identifies in space.

The university hopes that research conducted with the telescope will help answer fundamental questions about the nature of the universe, including planets that could support life.

Dr. Patrick Young with ASU said there will be a “number of first-generation instruments that will be ready to go when the telescope comes online.”

The telescope is expected to mark the first of a new class of telescope for size and resolution. Young said it will deliver nine times the light-gathering power of the biggest telescopes, with more than twice the resolution of detail.

The University of Arizona is constructing seven giant mirrors that will be part of the telescope. Each mirror is 8.4 meters across — more than 27 feet — and takes two years to make, from start to finish.

Young said the mirrors are constructed by melting glass into a rotating furnace, which is spun slowly as the glass cools.

That gives it a parabolic shape that can be polished down into the final mirror, which will be 80 feet in diameter with a surface area of about 4,000 square feet.

Young said the telescope will “allow us to make great strides in all areas of astrophysics.”

The price of the project, which includes the construction of the Las Campanas Observatory and the Giant Magellan Telescope, is tapped at $1 billion.  The telescope is expected to go into service in the mid-2020s.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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