This article was originally published on Popular photography.
If you thought the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) was impressive, think again. With $205 million in new funding secured to accelerate its construction, the Giant Magellan Telescope is poised to become the most powerful telescope…ever. It will be used to search for habitable planets, study the early galaxies in the universe, and try to explain mysteries like dark matter and energy.
Giant Magellan Telescope Receives $205 Million in Funding
The $205 million check is one of the largest in the history of the Giant Magellan Telescope, led by the Carnegie Institution for Science, Harvard University, the São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP), the University of Texas at Austin, University of Arizona and University of Chicago.
The funds will be used to build the 12-story telescope, including the seven primary mirrors underway at the University of Arizona’s Richard F. Caris Mirror Lab and an advanced spectrograph instrument in Texas. The final product will be assembled at Ingersoll Machine Tools in Illinois.
“The funding is truly a collaborative effort of our founders. The result will be the manufacture of the largest mirrors in the world, the giant telescope mount that holds and aligns them, and a scientific instrument that will allow us to study the chemical evolution of stars and planets like never before,” says the Dr. Robert Shelton, President of the Giant Magellan Telescope Organization (GMTO).
An important priority in astronomy
JWST is already a feat of human engineering. So why all the hype around the giant Magellan telescope?
The National Academy of Sciences’ Astro2020 decadal survey deemed the project “absolutely essential if the United States is to maintain its position as a leader in ground-based astronomy.”
The telescope will have 10 times the light-gathering area and four times the spatial resolution of the JWST, and will be 200 times more powerful than any other research telescope currently in use. For context, it will be able to show the penny torch from almost 100 miles away with precise focus.
With this, the goal of the Giant Magellan Telescope will be to study the physics and chemistry of the faint light sources discovered by the JWST. The hope is to identify potentially habitable planets; study the first galaxies in the universe; and search for clues that would reveal the mysteries of dark matter and energy, black holes, and the origins of the universe.
Current Progress of the Giant Magellan Telescope
Although the project does not yet have a completion date, significant progress has been made. Currently, six of the seven primary mirror segments have been cast, with the third segment having completed its two-year polishing phase.
The Giant Magellan Telescope will be assembled in a newly built 40,000 square foot facility, and the first adaptive secondary mirror is currently in production in Europe.
If the project resembles other deep space telescope projects, it could take a while to see results. But until then, we’ll wait impatiently.