The fact that it takes a full year to cast and cool just one of the mirrors that were constructed for the Giant Magellan Telescope, gives you an idea of how massive this project is. Production and design of the GMT is very unique and offers several advantages pushing the limits of the current class of observatory telescopes.
When approached with why scientists and researchers are creating the Giant Magellan telescope, they gave this very appropriate answer,
“The GMT aims to discover Earth-like planets around nearby stars and the tiny distortions that black holes cause in the light from distant stars and galaxies. It will reveal the faintest objects ever seen in space, including extremely distant and ancient galaxies, the light from which has been travelling to Earth since shortly after the Big Bang, 13.8 billion years ago. “
It is currently being constructed in Chile at the Las Campanas Observatory. The segmented mirror telescope utilizes 7 circular mirrors that are about 27 feet in diameter each are also the largest stiff “monolith mirrors” currently existing. Six of these mirrors surround the axis mirror to create a single optic surface of about 80 feet in diameter and will have the resolving power of about 10 times stronger than the Hubble telescope. Currently still in construction — the actual commissioning of the telescope is estimated for 2021.
So how does it work?
In the most manageable terms, light from distant stars from the edge of the universe will reflect off the seven primary mirrors, then reflecting down the seven smaller, secondary mirrors, then eventually funneling down to the center primary mirror to the advanced CCD (charge coupled device) imaging cameras. It is there where that concentrated light can be analyzed to see how far away the light source is and what exact matter it is made out of. In spite of being one of the largest telescopes to date and composed of the very unique design, the most sophisticated features are the “adaptive optics”. Underneath the secondary mirrors are hundreds of actuators that adjust the mirrors to counter and respond to any turbulence in its atmosphere, which essentially deems these secondary mirrors as a flexible component. Controlled by advanced computers these actuators are the reason why the GMT will capture the sharpest images from the most far off places (again 10 times sharper than the Hubble).
But advanced computer adjusting actuators aside, the COOLEST part of the telescope is definitely those giant mirrors — check out the casting of the fourth mirror in Richard F. Caris Mirror Lab at University of Arizona.
Source and Images: GMTO