Scientists in the Steward Observatory Mirror Lab at the University of Arizona are taking on a project that many critics deemed impossible: to create the largest telescope ever built. Nicknamed the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT), the telescope will acquire images that are ten times sharper than the Hubble Telescope and will allow scientists to finally take a look at the first stars created after the Big Bang.
The telescope will consist of a central mirror and six surrounding mirrors that create an “off-axis” design. The entire structure will be approximately the size of a basketball court. Each mirror must be completely smooth to prevent light from scattering. In addition, because these scientists are trying to create the first-ever asymmetric mirrors, the cooled mirrors must be delicately polished. As they attempt to perfect the technique, scientists anticipate that this first mirror may take up to seven years to polish properly!
In the end, the GMT will be placed in the Chilean Atacama Desert for use in the year 2020. Project Director Patrick McCarthy explains that he “believe[s] the GMT will be one of the defining instruments of how science will be done in the 21st century”. As scientists use the GMT to view the farthest, oldest stars in the galaxy, we will have our trusted mirrors to thank.
To read more about the GMT, click here.