Mirror milestone for giant telescope

 Artists impression of completed GMT.

Artists impression of completed GMT.

Construction of what will be the world’s largest, most-advanced optical telescope has reached a major milestone with fabrication of the first of seven enormous and technically challenging mirrors now complete.

The Australian National University is leading Australia’s participation as part of an international consortium to deliver the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT) project that will enable unprecedented advances in understanding the universe.

Professor Harvey Butcher, Director of the ANU Research School of Astronomy and Physics and a member of the GMT Board, said the successful manufacture of this type of astronomical mirror was a world-first.

"Never before has a large telescope mirror been made on this scale and with this level of technical precision," he said.

"The GMT is an ambitious project that requires all partner institutions to push their skills and expertise to new heights, for our collective benefit.

"The completion of the first mirror is a significant milestone for the project, and the engineers at the University of Arizona and the Giant Magellan Telescope project are to be commended for achieving this outstanding result."

Professor Matthew Colless, Director of the Australian Astronomical Observatory and Vice Chair of the GMT Board, said, "The Giant Magellan Telescope has the potential to transform how we see the cosmos, and our place in it."

The mirror is 8.4 metres in diameter and was cast at the University of Arizona from 20 tonnes of glass, melted then shaped and polished to precise optical standards described as "so smooth that if it were the size of Australia, the highest mountains would be little more than a centimetre high".

The telescope will be located at Las Campañas, an established observatory in the Chilean Andes owned and operated by the Carnegie Institution for Science, and is scheduled to commence operations toward the end of the decade.

Other GMT partner institutions include Astronomy Australia Limited, the Carnegie Institution for Science, Harvard University, the Korea Astronomy and Space Science Institute, The Smithsonian Institution, Texas A&M University, the University of Chicago, the University of Arizona and the University of Texas at Austin.

The projected is supported by funding from the Australian Government’s Education Investment Fund as part of the Super Science Initiative, securing access for Australian researchers to the telescope and building Australia’s capacity to participate in its design and component manufacture.

For images, video and visit www.gmto.org/primary­mirror.html