A Giant New $1 Billion Telescope Just Reached A Major Construction Milestone

The final telescope will look pretty darn awesome in 2024. GMTO Corporation

Exciting news astronomy fans, as work on a huge new telescope has now begun, with completion targeted for around 2024.

The $1 billion Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT) is being built in Chile high in the Atacama Desert in a region called the Las Campanas Observatory, a popular location for telescopes where the thin skies afford wonderful views of the cosmos. It’ll be situated at an altitude of about 2,500 meters (8,200 feet).

The huge telescope, led by the US but also involving Australia, Brazil, South Korea, and Chile, will span 25 meters (82 feet) in diameter, with seven separate mirrors comprising its primary mirror. Each is 8.4 meters (27.6 feet) across, they are the largest single astronomical mirrors that have ever been built. Together, they’ll have views about 10 times greater than Hubble.

Now, on August 14, a hydraulic drill began drilling into the solid rock terrain of the site to mark the boundaries of the telescope. More than 4,000 cubic meters (140,000 cubic feet) of rock will be removed to build its foundations.

“[W]ith the beginning of the construction of the permanent buildings on the site, the GMT shows tangible signs of progress towards its completion,” project manager Dr James Fanson said in a, uh, rather understated statement.

Drilling of the site began on August 14. GMTO Corporation

Atop the foundations will be a giant rotating observatory that reaches about 65 meters (215 feet) high and 56 meters (185 feet) wide. The entire thing will be able to move to point the mirrors at different regions of the sky. The mirrors themselves are already being built.

“The Giant Magellan Telescope will be one member of the next class of giant ground-based telescopes that promises to revolutionize our view and understanding of the universe,” the team writes on their website.

“This unprecedented light gathering ability and resolution will help with many other fascinating questions in 21st century astronomy.”

These questions include whether we’re alone in the universe, with the GMT having the capability to image other planets beyond our Solar System in more detail than ever before. It will also hope to peer at some of the universe’s first galaxies, and tell us more about ever-elusive dark matter.

And to make this possible the GMT will also make use of adaptive optics, something we’ve discussed before. By constantly adjusting its secondary mirrors (above the main mirror), it will be able to account for the distortion in light caused by the atmosphere at different altitudes.

It is set to be a rather incredible telescope upon its completion. Now we’ve just got a short six years to wait.

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