AN INSTRUMENT LIKE NO OTHER
The Giant Magellan Telescope will be one of the defining instruments in 21st century science. The name ties the instrument to the great voyage Magellan undertook in the early 1500s, discovering the true size of the globe as he discovered new lands. The GMT is the continuation of that journey, poised to create discoveries that define our understanding of the universe.
The GMT will be an enormous advance over existing telescopes anywhere on earth or in space, creating the ability for UT Austin students, researchers, and faculty to conduct groundbreaking research in Astronomy. The GMT will enable our astronomers to observe the first generation of stars and galaxies formed after the Big Bang, as well as to image planets around the nearest stars. This research will begin to answer the question: “Are we alone?”
Partnership in the GMT will place The University of Texas at Austin among the very few American universities with access to a next-generation telescope. This access is critical to the Commission of 125’s goal of making ours the top public research university in the country. UT seeks to have a 10-percent share ($70 million) in the GMT; Australia, Korea, and the Carnegie Institution have pledged full funding of their 10-percent partnership shares. The National Science Foundation has provided $10 million for technology development. With additional contributions from other partners (including $3 million from UT Austin) the total committed, to date, is about $280 million, or around 40 percent of the project’s estimated costs. The University of Texas at Austin and other U.S. partners are engaged in fundraising for each share.
The Giant Magellan Telescope Organization will lead the design, construction and operation of the telescope. Founding partners in the GMT project are Astronomy Australia Ltd., the Australian National University, the Carnegie Institution for Science, Harvard University, the Korea Astronomy and Space Science Institute, the Smithsonian Institution, Texas A&M University, the University of Arizona, the University of Chicago, and The University of Texas at Austin.
THE RIGHT CHOICE FOR DISCOVERY
The GMT will be located at Las Campanas in the Chilean foothills of the Andes, where the extraordinarily dry climate provides the sharpest possible images on earth. It will have a primary mirror composed of seven 8.4-meter segments on a single mount, giving it an equivalent diameter of 24.5 meters. At 360 square meters or about 3,900 square feet, the GMT's seven mirrors combine to form an area just smaller than a basketball court. The combination of the location and the advanced optics will give GMT an unprecedented capability for a ground-based telescope — six times the light-gathering power of UT's Hobby-Eberly Telescope and the ability to produce images 10 times sharper than those from the Hubble Space Telescope. The GMT’s light-gathering ability is equivalent to 2 billion people looking into the night sky.
How many other telescopes like the GMT are contemplated worldwide? Besides the GMT, there are two plans for giant telescopes, the TMT (Thirty Meter Telescope) and the EELT (European Extremely Large Telescope). Situated on Mauna Kea, Hawaii, the Thirty Meter Telescope is a project headed by Caltech and the University of California. In addition to the California universities the consortium includes Canada, China, India, and Japan. The status of the TMT’s international partners is uncertain (outside the TMT board); major contributions from these countries are thought to be dependent on substantial funds provided by the United States government. Of the estimated 1.2 Billion dollar budget, about $200 million was contributed for design by the Moore Foundation. TMT is a much more expensive project with a completion date extending beyond the GMT’s.
The European Extremely Large Telescope is a 40-meter telescope project headed by the European Southern Observatory, an organization headquartered in Munich with telescopes at two sites in Chile. The funding for this project is planned to be generated almost exclusively from tax monies from governments of European countries. The EELT, the most expensive of the giant telescope projects, will be placed at a new site in Chile. There is no chance that The University of Texas or any American university will be able to observe on this telescope.
WHY IS THE GMT RIGHT FOR UT?
On Time and Under Budget
The GMT is the right telescope for Texas to participate in for the future. The U.S. core of the initial GMT consortium built the twin six meter Magellan Telescopes under budget and on schedule, which gives the University confidence in the partnership. Our experience with the Hobby-Eberly Telescope and particularly with HETDEX, along with our capabilities in instrumentation, give us strengths that make us attractive to the other partners.
Location, Location, Location
Sited on Cerro Las Campanas, in the foothills of the Andes, the GMT will give UT Austin astronomers access to the southern hemisphere. The site is currently owned by the Carnegie Observatories, so the optimal location is assured. Discoveries of astronomy are celebrated in Chile; it has become the leading country in the operation of advanced telescopes due to its optimal climate.
Timing is Everything
The GMT has a completion date that will allow research to commence in 2022, allowing astronomers among the current generation of students, researchers and faculty to make groundbreaking discoveries and share them with UT, with Texas, and the world.
One Among Equals
UT faculty and research scientists are some of the top researchers in the world. They attract graduate students from the best undergraduate astronomy programs. Most of our American partners operate their own observatories with large telescopes. Additionally, our international partners bring strengths not just funds to the GMTO; Australia is an effective force on the international astronomical scene. Korea is unusually appealing to us because key Korean astronomers were trained at The University of Texas, and, thanks to some of these connections, UT and Korea are collaborating on design and construction of one of the first-light GMT instruments, as well as several collective ventures at McDonald Observatory.
A UT Culture of Excellence
UT Astronomy- the Department of Astronomy and the McDonald Observatory- is a top program in the US. This position has been achieved gradually by concentrating on key areas in observational and theoretical astrophysics. The GMT promises to put us among the few US universities with access to the world’s largest telescope. The GMT is the perfect instrument to achieve a UT-level of excellence in our understanding of the universe.