giant magellan telescope

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The future of astronomy: the Giant (25 meter!) Magellan Telescope

“This is why we look, and this is what science at the frontiers is. The Giant Magellan Telescope will do all the things from the ground that space-based telescopes can’t do as well, and will do them better than any other telescope in existence. Unlike the other large ground-based telescopes planned, it’s completely privately funded, there are no political controversies over it, and construction on it has already begun. The future of any scientific endeavor — and perhaps astronomy in particular — requires you to be ambitious, and to invest in looking for the unknown. We’ll never learn what lies beyond our current frontiers of knowledge unless we search, and the GMT is one major step towards looking where no one has ever looked before.”

If you want to see farther, deeper and at higher resolution than ever before into the Universe, you need four things: the largest aperture possible, the best-quality optical systems and cameras/CCDs, the least interference from the atmosphere, and the analytical techniques and power to make the most of every photon. While the last three have improved tremendously over the past 25 years, telescope size hasn’t increased at all. That’s all about to change over the next decade, as three telescopes — the Giant Magellan Telescope, the Thirty Meter Telescope and the European Extremely Large Telescope — are set to take us from 8-10 meter class astronomy to 25-40 meter class. While the latter two are fighting over funding, construction rights and other political concerns, the Giant Magellan Telescope is already under construction, and is poised to be the first in line to begin the future of ground-based astronomy.

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Construction To Begin on Telescope 10 Times Sharper Than Hubble

Officials in charge of the planned Giant Magellan Telescope say they have secured enough funding to start construction. In an announcement, the organization said 11 international partners have committed to give $500 million to build the first of the next generation of amazingly powerful optical telescopes on a mountaintop in Northern Chile. 

Once it starts operating in 2021, the GMT’s set of seven mirrors–with a combined diameter of more than 82 feet–will make the instrument the largest optical telescope in the world. Its backers say it will be capable of focusing six times more light than the current record holder can accomplish. With that, the GMT will generate images that are 10 times sharper than those made by the Hubble Space Telescope. Astronomers and the public will be treated to a deeper dive into the distant universe, seeing things farther and fainter than ever before.

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