Saturday, April 20, 2024

The Giant Magellan Telescope begins fabrication of its final mirror

The Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT) begins the four-year process of fabricating and polishing its seventh and final primary mirror. This mirror is the last required to complete the telescope’s 368 square meter light-collecting surface, which is the world’s largest and most challenging optics ever produced.

With the collective power of all the mirrors, the telescope will be able to collect more light than any other telescope in existence. This breakthrough will enable humanity to unravel the mysteries of the Universe by providing detailed chemical analyses of celestial objects and their origins.

GMT will consist of seven massive mirrors, each 8.4 meters in diameter, arranged in a flower-like pattern. The fabrication of the final mirror, which will be the central piece of the telescope, has recently begun at the University of Arizona’s Richard F. Caris Mirror Lab.

A one-of-a-kind spinning oven housed beneath the stands of the Arizona Wildcats Football Stadium began to heat nearly 20 tons of the purest optical glass to 2,130 degrees Fahrenheit (1,165 degrees Celsius). This caused it to melt and be forced outward to form the mirror’s curved paraboloid surface.

The mirror will now be left to cool for the next three months before it moves on to the polishing stage for an astronomically precise finish.

After that, the mirror segment will journey down to Chile by boat to join its six counterparts, forming the telescope‘s primary mirror.

With a sensitivity 50 million times greater than the human eye, the 25.4-meter telescope promises to provide insights that were once considered beyond reach. Once assembled, all seven mirrors will work together as a single light-collecting surface 80 feet (25.4-meter) across. This configuration will result in up to 200 times the sensitivity and four times the image resolution of today’s most advanced space telescopes.

“The combination of light-gathering power, efficiency, and image resolution will enable us to make new discoveries across all fields of astronomy,” shares Rebecca Bernstein, Chief Scientist for the Giant Magellan Telescope, said in a statement. “We will have a unique combination of capabilities for studying planets at the high spatial and spectral resolution, both of which are key to determining if a planet has a rocky composition like our Earth if it contains liquid water, and if its atmosphere contains the right combination of molecules to indicate the presence of life.”

The telescope will uncover the cosmic mysteries of dark matter, investigate the origins of chemical elements, and verify signs of life on distant planets for the first time. It is expected to see the first light by the end of the decade.