The Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT) has just received a good deal of the change to help develop and test the advanced technologies that will give the future observatory such a sharp vision.
The US National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded a $ 17.5 million grant to GMTO Corporation, which is developing GMT and will manage the large-scale business once it begins operations. The Chilean Andes in the late 2020s.
The money, which was first allocated to the GMT project by NSF, “means that the observatory will be important to the entire astronomical community in the United States,”
“This award really gives us the opportunity to accelerate our progress on critical components,” Shelton said. “And I think that allows us to stretch our stuff, to show a little bit of the technical skills of the project team, which are obvious.”
Connected: The giant Magellan telescope, planned in Chile (images)
GMT will integrate seven primary mirrors 27.6 feet (8.4 meters) wide into a single light-collecting surface 80 feet (24.5 meters) wide – three times the width of any optical telescope in operation today. The large range will also include seven “adaptive secondary mirrors” (ASM), each of which will be 1 m wide and only 2 millimeters thick, with hundreds of drives attached to its back.
“With these [actuators], we can bend this thin glass surface about 1,000 times every second, “GMTO project manager James Fenson told Space.com.” This is what we use to compensate for the distortion introduced by Earth’s atmosphere. We measure the distortion millisecond by millisecond and correct it so that we can essentially remove the atmosphere above the telescope and get very sharp images. “
This extreme optics will give GMT 10 times the resolving power of the famous NASA Hubble Space Telescope, Said members of the GMT team. Astronomers will use GMT for various high-impact projects, from hunting to signs of life in the atmospheres of nearby exoplanets to study the nature of dark matter and dark energy, which dominate the universe but remain largely mysterious.
However, all this will not be a walk in the park. For example, no other one-piece telescope mirror is larger than the main segment of GMT. And the surface of all seven GMT primers must be shaped almost to perfection: The margin of error is only 25 nanometers (1 millionth of an inch), about the width of a glass molecule.
The seven segments must also be “step-by-step” so that they align precisely and perform as a single piece of hardware. The recently awarded NSF money will help the GMT team demonstrate and practice just that in two custom-built test stages, one at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and the other at the University of Arizona in Tucson. The grant will also allow the team to partially build and test ASM.
The grant-funded work will run for three years and will support real-time GMT for “first light” in 2029, team members said. And the benefits will outweigh GMT, Fanson said, stressing that the technology on display will be used by other telescopes in the future.
Overall, the development of GMT is going well, Shelton said, adding that the team has not yet noticed serious impacts due to coronavirus pandemic.
Primary mirror segments 1 and 2 are fully completed, and segment 3 is currently being polished in the Richard F. Caris Mirror Laboratory at the University of Arizona. Segments 4 and 5 are expected to be polished, and segment 6 will be introduced in the coming months, Shelton said. (The Mirror lab does all this work, from casting to final polishing.)
In October 2019, GMTO announced that it was signed a $ 135 million contract with MT Mechatronics and Ingersoll Machine Tools to build and install the telescope stand, an 1800-ton precision steel structure that will be the bones of GMT.
The installation is going through its preliminary design review now, Shelton said.
“This is the one we really need to focus on now, making sure that the design meets our needs, because literally everything has to do with the installation – the tools, the mirrors, everything,” he said. “So that’s really the key right now.”
Mike Wall is the author of “There” (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Carl Tate), a book about the search for extraterrestrial life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.