Today we had the privilege to discuss the Giant Magellan Telescope with Project Lead and Interim President, Dr. Patrick McCarthy. Dr. McCarthy shed a lot of light on what is involved in a project of this scope, what kind of scientific advances are likely to occur, as well as general information about how telescopes of all types actually work.
- Why another telescope? We have so many. What is the Giant Magellan Telescope bringing that we haven’t had before?
- Greater resolution through larger aperture
- What are the big goals we hope to achieve with the Giant Magellan Telescope?
- Distant galaxy observation (closer to the big bang)
- Observing planets orbiting nearby stars
- Identify planets with the chemical signatures of life
- A recent report suggests that there is a planet orbiting Alpha Centauri, and that it might have liquid water. Could the Giant Magellan Telescope help us find out more?
- How much of an optical compromise do earth-based telescopes experience compared to space-based? Or do they?
- The mirrors are polished to 1 millionth of an inch. How do natural forces impact such a fine tolerance (i.e. shifting tectonic plates or even earthquakes, gravity, atmospheric pressure, ambient temperature, or even people walking by)?
- Adaptive optics
- Why this specific location in Chile?
- The Giant Magellan Telescope is described the first of a new class of “Extremely Large Telescopes.” Is there a specific definition for ELTs?
- Can you describe how the GMT will gather light via the mirror array, etc.?
- Primary mirrors
- Secondary mirrors
- Final mirror
- The mirrors are asymmetric. Why so?
- The Giant Magellan Telescope has 7 massive mirrors, while the Thirty Meter Telescope and European Extremely Large Telescope were designed with hundreds of smaller mirrors. Why the choice of 7 large mirrors for GMT?
- Can the system be upgraded over time, for instance a better CCD?
- Aside from the visible spectrum, what else will the GMT see?
- What other scientific instruments will be installed at the GMT complex?
- How long before the GMT is operational?
- How is the construction phase funded?
- Once the GMT is up and running, how will it be funded?
- Is there still room for other institutions to be involved?
- Last question. In your opinion, are we alone?
For more info about the Giant Magellan Telescope project, head on over to http://www.gmto.org/!
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Now go outside, tilt your head up, and stare at the stars. Unless there’s only one really bright one in the sky. In that case, avert your gaze.