Astronomers have begun to blast 3 million cubic feet of rock from a mountaintop in the Chilean Andes to make room for the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT), the world's largest telescope when completed near the end of the decade. The GMT will help astronomers probe the nature of dark matter and dark energy - mysterious forms of matter and energy that allow galaxies to form while the expansion of the Universe accelerates.
The GMT will have unprecedented capabilities, allowing it to peer back to the dawn of time, witnessing the birth of the first stars, galaxies and black holes, while also exploring planetary systems similar to our own around nearby stars in the Milky Way.
The telescope will be located at the Carnegie Institution's Las Campanas Observatory - one of the world's premier astronomical sites, known for its pristine conditions and clear, dark skies. Over the next few months, more than 70 controlled blasts will break up the rock while leaving a solid bedrock foundation for the telescope and its precision scientific instruments.
"The GMT will play an important role in helping us understand the Universe and our place in the cosmos," said Dr. Charles Alcock, Director of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, at the mountaintop ceremony.
In January of this year the partners cast the second of GMT's seven 28-foot diameter primary mirror segments at the University of Arizona's Steward Observatory Mirror Laboratory. The seven primary mirrors, each weighing 20 tons, are the heart of the giant telescope, providing nearly 4000 square feet of light-gathering area.
Optical scientists at the Mirror Lab are putting the finishing touches on the first mirror segment, whose surface now matches its optical prescription to better than one millionth of an inch. Dr. Patrick McCarthy, the GMT Project Director, said, "2012 is a banner year for the GMT project as we complete the design process, develop the primary mirrors and begin work on the site in Chile."
More information regarding the GMT project and Las Campanas Observatory can be found at www.gmto.org.
The Daily Galaxy via http://www.cfa.harvard.edu/news