Site Selected for Construction of Giant Magellan Telescope
WASHINGTON, D.C. —
A site in northern Chile has been selected as the new home for the future of astronomy, the $500 million Giant Magellan Telescope.
Officials with the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT) Consortium, which includes Texas A&M University and eight other partner institutions, announced earlier this week that the GMT will be constructed at Cerro Las Campanas, Chile. The location was selected for its high altitude, dry climate, dark skies and unsurpassed seeing quality, as well as its access to the southern skies.
“This decision represents a critical step toward realizing our goal of building the premier next-generation astronomical observatory,” said Dr. Wendy Freedman, leader of the GMT Board and director of the Observatories of the Carnegie Institution, which operates Las Campanas. “Excellent science has come from Las Campanas for several decades, and the superb astronomical quality of the site is a significant contributor to this success.”
Scheduled for completion in 2016, the GMT will be the first of a new generation of ground-based telescopes. Because of its large size, it will offer exceptional resolving power, producing images up to 10 times sharper than the Hubble Space Telescope. The GMT will be composed of seven 8.4-meter (27.5-foot) primary mirrors, six of which will be off-axis encircling the seventh to produce a telescope with an effective aperture of 24.5 meters (80 feet).
Dr. Nicholas B. Suntzeff, professor of physics and holder of the Mitchell-Heep-Munnerlyn Endowed Chair in Observational Astronomy at Texas A&M, spent 20 years at the National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO)/Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in La Serena, Chile, before coming to Texas A&M in 2006 to lead the University’s efforts to build a first-rate astronomy program. He applauded the group for a sound decision at a highly important phase in the overall GMT project.
“The GMT builds on the partners’ collective experience in constructing and operating world-class telescopes,” Suntzeff explained. “Locating the telescope at a proven, world-class, mountain-top site in Chile will maximize its productivity and cost effectiveness.”
The Las Campanas Observatory is home to the twin Magellan Telescopes, the predecessors of the new instrument expected to help answer many of the questions at the forefront of astrophysics today as it poses new and unanticipated riddles for future generations of astronomers.
“The Giant Magellan Telescope represents the dawn of a new age of astronomical exploration,” stated Dr. Charles Alcock, director of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. “As telescopes get larger, we are able to see fainter, farther and with more clarity than ever before. We can only predict a fraction of the scientific discoveries that will be made using this enormous telescope and the new insights into the Universe that we will gain.”
The first GMT mirror was cast from molten glass in July 2005 and is currently being polished at the University of Arizona’s Steward Observatory Mirror Laboratory. When completed in early 2009, the final surface will be smooth to an accuracy of 1 millionth of an inch and will follow the precise optical prescription needed to produce the best images theoretically possible.
The GMT is expected to open new avenues of scientific exploration, including understanding the origin and evolution of planetary systems beyond our own; witnessing the formation of stars, galaxies and black holes; and exploring the properties of dark matter and dark energy in the cosmos.
Texas A&M’s membership in the GMT was made possible by an initial $1.75 million gift from George and Cynthia Mitchell of The Woodlands, Texas, intended to bolster the University’s scientific development and leadership in physics, astronomy and related focus areas. The Mitchells’ contributions to physics, which include funding for two buildings, 10 academic chairs and two professorships under the auspices of the George P. and Cynthia Woods Mitchell Institute for Fundamental Physics and Astronomy as well as a 10-year collaboration between Texas A&M and the University of Cambridge, total nearly $50 million since 2002.
Detailed information about the GMT’s design as well as the science it will perform is located at www.gmto.org.
For more on Suntzeff’s research and Texas A&M astronomy, visit his Web site.
Contact: Shana K. Hutchins, (979) 862-1237 or firstname.lastname@example.org or Dr. Nicholas B. Suntzeff, (979) 458-1786 or email@example.com
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