Press Release

First Mirror Ordered for Giant Magellan Telescope

By SpaceRef Editor
December 13, 2004
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First Mirror Ordered for Giant Magellan Telescope

Cambridge, MA– The Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) has
taken a key step toward the goal of building and operating a large
next-generation telescope through its participation in the joint Giant
Magellan Telescope (GMT). The GMT will have a diameter of about 83 feet (25
meters), about as wide as the 2004 Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center,
New York, is tall.

Today, two of the GMT participants–the Carnegie Observatories of the
Carnegie Institution, and the University of Arizona, Steward Observatory
Mirror Lab–announced that they have signed an agreement to produce the
first mirror for the GMT. This important step will keep the GMT on track
for completion in 2016.

“The Giant Magellan Telescope represents the dawn of a new age of
astronomical exploration,” stated Dr. Charles Alcock, CfA director. “As
telescopes get larger, we are able to see fainter, farther, and with more
clarity than ever before. We can only guess at the scientific discoveries
that will be made using this enormous telescope, and the new insights into
the universe that we will gain.”

The eight-member GMT consortium includes the Carnegie Observatories,
Harvard University, Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (a member of
CfA), University of Arizona, University of Michigan, Massachusetts
Institute of Technology, University of Texas at Austin, and Texas A&M

“This is an inspiring moment for me as we prepare to cast the first of
GMT’s seven huge mirrors,” said Dr. Dan Fabricant, CfA project scientist
for GMT. “The GMT will gather five times more light than the world’s
largest existing telescope, and it will produce images many times sharper
than Hubble’s. With GMT’s unprecedented power, we will explore the origin
of planets like our Earth and look back through the furthest reaches of
cosmic time to observe how galaxies like our own Milky Way were formed.”

The GMT’s innovative design and huge size will enable it to probe the
secrets of planets that have formed around other stars in the Milky Way,
explore the formation of black holes, peer back in time toward the Big Bang
with unprecedented clarity, and delve into the nature of dark matter and
dark energy.

“We got a big surprise a few years ago when we learned from observations
that the expansion of the Universe is speeding up. We attribute this to a
mysterious ‘dark energy,’ but we really don’t know much about it. The Giant
Magellan Telescope will enable us to see exploding stars whose light comes
from 10 billion light years away, to use those stars to trace cosmic
expansion, and to begin to figure out what the dark energy really is,” said
Prof. Robert Kirshner of CfA.

“It is absolutely wonderful to see the Giant Magellan Telescope project
start with this milestone. It will open up incredible new vistas in
cosmology, star formation and the study of stars and planets, to name just
a few,” stated Prof. John Huchra of CfA. “I started my career observing on
a 100-inch telescope. It would be great to work on a 1000-inch!”

The mirrors for the GMT will be made using the existing infrastructure at
Steward that made the 6.5-meter Magellan mirrors and the larger 8.4-meter
mirrors for the Large Binocular Telescope on Mt. Graham, Arizona.

“The real distinction of the GMT is that it is building on a heritage of
successful technology developed for the twin 6.5-meter Magellan telescopes
at Las Campanas Observatory. Their performance has far exceeded our
expectations,” stated Dr. Wendy Freedman, director of the Carnegie

The new telescope will be composed of seven, 8.4-meter primary mirrors, six
of which will be off-axis, arranged in a floral pattern to produce a
telescope with an effective aperture of 25.4 meters (83 feet). One spare
off-axis mirror also will be made.

The off-axis mirrors will require new techniques in casting and polishing
to construct. The first off-axis mirror will be cast this coming summer
(2005) to address the new challenges. Site testing at the GMT’s planned
location at Las Campanas Observatory, Chile, also is underway along with
many other aspects of the project.

A high-resolution schematic of the GMT is online at:

Detailed information about the design of the GMT and the science that it
will perform is located at

Headquartered in Cambridge, Mass., the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for
Astrophysics (CfA) is a joint collaboration between the Smithsonian
Astrophysical Observatory and the Harvard College Observatory. CfA
scientists, organized into six research divisions, study the origin,
evolution and ultimate fate of the universe.

SpaceRef staff editor.