ASU joins project to build the world's largest optic telescope

ASU joins universities including Harvard and University of Chicago

The Giant Magellan Telescope Organization announced on Wednesday, Nov. 29 that ASU is the latest university to join the project to build the the world's largest optical telescope. 

The organization is an international collaboration of universities and institutions working to create a telescope that will help acquire information about planets beyond our solar system as well as the formation of the universe.

“ASU has a great deal of expertise in some of the key areas we’re hoping GMT will address, including the early universe, extrasolar planets and astrobiology,” Patrick Young, an associate professor at ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration, said.

Young said he is most excited about the ability to better study Earth-like extrasolar planets that might have evidence of life and help researchers better understand how life formed on Earth. 

GMT will be the first of the next generation of telescopes that are much larger and more powerful than current optical telescopes. These “extremely large telescopes,” as they are being called by scientists, can take in more light and provide researchers with more detailed information.

“Being involved in GMT will put ASU on the forefront of astronomy for the next generation, because these (telescopes) are going to be the workhorses that open up opportunities for scientific new discoveries,” Young said. 

Telescope technology has come a long way from the refracting telescopes built by Galileo Galilei. The GMT’s optics will be comprised of seven mirrors weighing 17 tons each

The first generation of instruments that will be attached to the telescope have already been approved and are being built currently. 

Evgenya Shkolnik, an assistant professor at ASU's School of Earth and Space Exploration, will have the opportunity to build some of the second generation of instruments that will be attached to the telescope. 

“There is a lot exciting science to be done,” Shkolnik said. 

The GMT project is the latest space exploration project ASU community members contribute to. Rogier Windhorst, the co-director of the ASU Cosmology Initiative, is currently working on NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, the successor of the Hubble Space Telescope. 

“The telescope will give us to the ability to follow up on objects that Hubble and the James Webb telescope have observed,” Windhorst said. 

Because of the size of the universe, the light that reaches Earth from distant stars is thousands of years old in some cases. Because of this, researchers like Windhorst and Young need increasingly more powerful telescopes to learn about the origins of the universe. 

“One of the things that continually excites me about astrophysics is that we get to think of creative ways to explore the universe,” Judd D. Bowman, an associate professor at ASU's School of Earth and Space Exploration, said. “We can’t go to another galaxy in person, but we can use technology to build newer and better telescopes to see more and more of the universe we live in.”


Reach the reporter at jicazare@asu.edu or follow @sonic_429 on Twitter. 

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