Giant Magellan Telescope Gets Fast Tracked By National Science Foundation

The Giant Magellan Telescope has gotten $17.5 million from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to accelerate the prototyping and testing of some of the most powerful optical and infrared technologies ever engineered. The Giant Magellan Telescope will be three times the size of any ground-based optical telescope built to date.

The GMT and the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) are a part of the US Extremely Large Telescope Program (US-ELTP).

The Giant Magellan Telescope is designed to have a resolving power ten times greater than the Hubble Space Telescope.

The Giant Magellan Telescope’s primary mirror comprises seven 8.4 meter mirror segments. They will push to the diffraction-limit of imaging which is a limitation based on physics. They will phase these primary mirror segments so that they behave as a monolithic mirror. Once phased, we must then correct for Earth’s turbulent atmospheric distortion. This will get close to the image resolution of placing a large telescope in phase.

The NSF grant enables the GMT to build two phasing testbeds that will allow engineers to demonstrate, in a controlled laboratory setting, that its core designs will work to align and phase the telescope’s seven mirror segments with the required precision to achieve diffraction-limited imaging at first light in 2029. It also enables the partial build and testing of a next-generation Adaptive Secondary Mirror (ASM), which is used to perform the primary mirror phasing and atmospheric distortion correction.

One of the main goals will be to look for faint signs of life on distant exoplanets.

Questions from Nextbigfuture:
It seems the extremely large telescope and the thirty meter telescope will be completed a few years before the GMTO. How will the GMTO do new unique work or help expand knowledge beyond what the other new large telescopes will be doing?

Answer: It is essential to keep in mind that the three telescopes, the E-ELT, TMT, and GMT, have different designs with unique strengths. In the case of GMT, the initial suite of instruments includes an emphasis on high-resolution spectroscopy at all wavelengths from the near-UV to the mid-infrared (0.3-5µm) and also very wide field spectroscopy of even very faint sources. These two categories of instruments are extremely powerful for studying exoplanetary systems, forming planets, and protoplanetary disks — topics of great interest to astronomers and humanity in general — as well as for extragalactic astronomy, cosmology, and fundamental physics. GMT’s first light high-resolution spectrograph, G-CLEF, will be a particularly powerful tool among the ELTs for studying exoplanets. Moreover, the more compact design of the GMT reduces the cost of instrumentation and allows for more rapid development of new instruments in response to scientific demand. With respect to timing, note that all three observatories incorporate new technologies and challenges of scale that have not been achieved previously. This on-the-ground reality leads to uncertainties in the completion date for each of these projects.

Question : How will all of them work with new space based telescopes?

There will be a number of synergies between the ground-based ELTs and space-based telescopes. High energy space-based observatories (X-ray and gamma-ray) find explicit sources that we study by optical follow-up to understand their physics. The impact of infrared space-based telescopes is also much greater when objects can also be studied from the ground with large enough telescopes to study faint sources.

Ground-based telescopes have a unique contribution in both of the areas of GMT’s strengths — high-resolution spectroscopy and wide-field spectroscopy. Spectroscopy is how we measure motion, mass, and chemistry, and that opens the door to understanding, not just identifying, all the objects we want to study, from their origin, to their evolution and everything in between With respect to exoplanets, there are many ways to find planets—some space-based missions like TESS and PLATO excel at this— but you need high-resolution spectroscopy to understand how planetary systems form and evolve beyond our solar system, whether they are rocky (i.e. earth-like) or not, and even if they contain life. Wide field spectroscopy enables us to efficiently study large numbers of objects, to understand physical patterns in the universe and its content.

SOURCES- Giant Magellan Telescope, NSF
Written By Brian Wang,

28 thoughts on “Giant Magellan Telescope Gets Fast Tracked By National Science Foundation”

  1. Once you can loft things into space cheaply, a space based telescope becomes the cheaper choice for the same quality image.

    The optics should cost the same. The space base structure should be cheaper, less weight, less material, less cost.

    The big difference was the cost of lofting it. With Starship, that will no longer be a big difference.

    I was thinking about how cheap could it get if you mass produce ten to twenty large space telescope. I wonder if you could get the price down to $billion a pop.

  2. When I was a child, my grandfather would often say "Look at all the stars!". This was in the 50s, and not far out of town. It is *clearly* a changing thing.

  3. Although we haven't been looking at it this way because we only had a very little reason so far, the sky and the cosmos natural lights and radiation is a global asset that we should be very careful in managing. Especially because we haven't done much research on the impact of obstructing it.

  4. As a lifelong amateur astronomer, I've been escaping light pollution, even view blocking, as sats also do, for a long time. Yet I find it unlikely that looking at something gives an *absolute* right to control the property or asset that I am looking thru. Even libertarian thought does not clearly resolve all issues. Power addicts even fewer, while making things worse too.

  5. Moon is good to block Earth radio waves, little else for 'scopes. Dust, gravity, etc. For these purposes, it is a *planet*. Ugh! Because it has no atmos, it *is* an asteroid, for other purposes such as mining.

  6. "unsatisfactory responses from spectrum(sane-insane) spanning libertarians". As libertarians start with property rather than power as the deciding factor, if the property already exists, air for example, raw land, minerals, etc, then if the issue of ownership is ignored, you are not meaningfully libertarian. Some, perhaps not all, of Henry George makes sense here. Carbon tax idea, if not implementation, easily qualifies as libertarian. So does paying rent to each person who does not use his portion of RAW land, or RAW material. This does not include things people make! "the commons" means either voluntary association or theft, or non value. Space darkness is impacted by far more than sats. "I've gotten various unsatisfactory responses from" socialists on these matters. Check out common law on early pollution *standards* for problem considerations. And clean up those middens!

  7. "build large telescopes for a fraction of the cost of space-based ones?" Have you read "The High Frontier"? You are assuming a lot there!

  8. While I am all for space-based telescopes, I am for Earth-based telescopes as well. There is no good reason to stop building Earth-based telescopes. We have technology to mitigate the atmospheric distortions, why not take advantage of it and build large telescopes for a fraction of the cost of space-based ones?
    We can have albedo standards for satellites. With very black paint, they will have little effect on observations.
    Someday maybe they will become an anachronism, but that is not the case today.
    The better the telescope, the less of the sky it looks at. That means a lot can be missed, if there are not a lot of telescopes. Seeing these big scopes can be every bit as inspiring as a photo from a space-based telescope. I think they even convey the idea that science and engineering is important, to young minds. And without being outrageously expensive like super colliders and failed fusion reactors.
    Telescopes on the ground can be more experimental as well, because it is not as difficult to make changes.
    Space stuff has to be absolutely 100% or there will be calls for heads to roll. That means a lot more testing and expense. The environment of space can also be challenging with heating and cooling issues.

  9. Massive LEO constellations are going to happen eventually. If not SpaceX, it will be Bezos (Kuiper), Samsung or the Chinese (Hongyun). SpaceX is experimenting with matte coatings and sunshades to mitigate the problem, which I doubt the Chinese or Bezos would bother to do. So ground-based astronomy is probably doomed anyway and governments should be funding massive telescope arrays in space to improve astronomy.

  10. "…I don't see that their claim on the night sky takes precedence…"

    They were using it first and without massively disadvantaging anyone else, except maybe for some indigenous natives on a mountain somewhere.

    "…put the telescopes in space. As the cost of space flight becomes more affordable…"

    More affordable than where they already exists? Funny, the source of their injury and increase future costs happens to be selling the cure for their own "disease".

    "…it's not as if they don't have another option…I would think they would be chomping at the bit to be living in space stations observing the cosmos…"

    There are many options, not just the ones one might prefer.
    Wishful thinking will not get them into space, injunctive relief might.

  11. The only disadvantaged group are the astronomers, which are far outnumbered by the suscribers. I can understand astronomers being upset about this. I do feel sympathy for their views. But on the other hand I don't see that their claim on the night sky takes precedence. And moreover, it's not as if they don't have another option – put the telescopes in space. As the cost of space flight becomes more affordable, I would expect they would be moving in that direction. That they keep building them on earth seems anachronistic. And also somewhat perplexing. Since they are scientists and the urge of all scientists is to discover, then I would think they would be chomping at the bit to be living in space stations observing the cosmos.

  12. It is time to move telescopes off planet. Cost per kg is going to plumment due to Starship. Future telescopes should all be built in space or on the farside of the Moon.

  13. It is time to move telescopes off planet. Cost per kg is going to plumment due to Starship. Future telescopes should all be built in space or on the farside of the Moon.

  14. Earth to Earth power beaming, then Moon to Moon for poles and any other project, Moon to cis lunar for ISM start and various *gateway* type things, Moon to Earth big pay off, big scale.

  15. I've gotten various unsatisfactory responses from spectrum(sane-insane) spanning libertarians regarding their vision of utopia.

    What is your recourse when one person's exploitation of the commons not only doesn't benefit you directly, but actively disadvantages you? In this case the advantage and disadvantaged would be Musk, his investors and his subscribers vs. as much as everyone else not in that set.

  16. I vote for balloons rather than Starlink or Kuiper. I like Lunar Solar Power rather than GEO power sats, altho L5 station would be nice too. Far side of Moon should be Harlan Smith radio frequency observatory. Most space 'scopes should be free floating, way out there. But build with same stuff as rotating settlements.

  17. Well, Elon is only doing it because consumers want the service he provides. So it's not just Elon, but also all of his customers that are, as you say, doing whatever they want. So the astronomers will just have to share the night sky with us consumers.

    Of course, we could just stop building ground based telescopes. Instead we could build one of Dan Lantz's O'Neill cylinders at the L2 Lagrange Point and put all kinds of telescopes in it.


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