Carnegie Commits to Giant Magellan Telescope Construction

Washington, D.C. At its annual May meeting, the Carnegie Institution for Science board of trustees enthusiastically endorsed the construction of the proposed Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT). The GMT will be the first in the next generation of astronomical observatories that will drive new scientific discoveries. The Carnegie board authorized President Richard A. Meserve to state the institution’s commitment of $59.2 million for the design, construction, and commissioning of the telescope to supplement the $19.9 million that Carnegie has already committed to the project. At this time more that 40% of the total funding required to construct the GMT has been committed by the Founding Institutions. It is the board’s hope and expectation that the other partners in the project will soon commit the remainder of the funds that will allow the telescope to be brought into service.

The GMT will be built at Carnegie’s Las Campanas Observatory in Chile, and will be operated by a consortium of institutions from the United States, South Korea, and Australia. Larger and more powerful than any previous optical telescope, it will have ten times the light-gathering power of current ground-based telescopes, and will produce images 10 times sharper than those from the Hubble Space Telescope. The GMT will use the latest in Adaptive Optics technology to remove blurring caused by the Earth’s atmosphere to produce images with unprecedented sensitivity and clarity.

“This move by the Carnegie board is historic for the future of astronomy,” stated President Meserve. “This telescope is building on a 100-history of telescope construction at the institution. It will be based on the technology developed for the highly successful 6.5-meter Magellan telescopes at Las Campanas. The GMT promises to contribute significantly to our understanding of the universe.”

The novel design of the GMT will combine seven 8.4-meter primary mirror segments resulting in an equivalent 24.5-meter telescope. The first so-called off axis mirror, under development at the Steward Observatory Mirror Lab at the University of Arizona, will be completed by the end of the year.

The GMT is poised to address some of the most fundamental and outstanding questions in astronomy: the nature of the mysterious dark matter and dark energy, the origin of the first stars and first galaxies, and how stars, galaxies and black holes evolve over time. One of the particular strengths of the GMT will be its ability to image planets around nearby stars and to search for signs of life in their atmospheres.

The Giant Magellan Telescope Organization (GMTO) manages the project. Chairperson of the GMTO and Carnegie Observatories director, Wendy Freedman said, “This is a pivotal step toward the successful completion of this challenging and exciting project. The enormous collective scientific and technical talent in the GMT consortium will allow us to push back the frontiers of astronomy and enable future discoveries. I am delighted at this historic milestone.”

In the United States the participating institutions are the Carnegie Institution for Science, Harvard University, the Smithsonian Institution, Texas A& M University, the University of Arizona, and the University of Texas at Austin. The two Australian members of the Founders group are the Australian National University and Astronomy Australia Limited. The South Korean government approved participation in the GMT project, with the Korea Astronomy and Space Science Institute as the representative of the Korean astronomical community. Both Australia and Korea have funded their 10% shares.