News / Science & Technology

Giant Telescope to Probe Origin of Universe

Giant Magellan Telescope Has Eye on Big Bangi
X
February 05, 2014 11:42 PM
A powerful new telescope is being readied to probe the mysteries of the cosmos. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, the telescope's high-tech mirrors are key to its capacity to produce images that far surpass even those sent from space.
Rosanne Skirble
A new telescope is being readied to probe the mysteries of the cosmos. Once completed, the Giant Magellan Telescope will be the most powerful on the planet.   

The instrument is under construction at the University of Arizona and, when it's completed by 2020, will allow astronomers to probe the origin of the universe.

“We want to know what is the overall size and structure of the universe. What is it comprised of? What is our place in the universe?" said Patrick McCarthy, director of the Giant Magellan Telescope Organization, who came to the American Astronomical Society Annual Meeting in Washington. "Are there other planets in the universe that might hold life? And what is the overall fate and evolution of the universe? So we just want to know, where are we? And who else is with us?”   

The 25-meter diameter telescope is comprised of seven mirrors that work together to make a single optical telescope. Each of the mirrors is 8.4 meters in diameter. Even though Magellan is based on Earth, and gathering light that is filtered through the atmosphere, it will offer the highest resolution images ever seen to explore deep space. 

Giant Magellan Telescope Eyes Big Bang
Giant Magellan Telescope Eyes Big Bangi
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X

Magellan’s enormous light collecting capacity will allow it to follow the path of our evolving universe, from gas and elementary particles to the rich world of galaxies, stars and planets we see today.  

“Once you see them, then you can start to actually look at their atmospheres to see if there are signs of life or at least biomarkers like water, oxygen, chlorophyll perhaps," McCarthy said. "And then on the very largest scales, we can measure the expansion history of the universe and try to understand this mysterious acceleration and ask what the fate of the universe is 100 billion years from now.”

Artist drawing of what the Giant Magellan Telescope will look like when it’s completed. (Giant Magellan Telescope–GMTO Corporation)Artist drawing of what the Giant Magellan Telescope will look like when it’s completed. (Giant Magellan Telescope–GMTO Corporation)
Each mirror is the product of cutting-edge technology and processing.  First, a mold is built that can accommodate and cast some 20 tons of crushed glass.  

“You put the glass in there.  You enclose it in a furnace filled with heating filaments," McCarthy said. "You heat it up to about 2,000 degrees. As the glass starts to melt, we spin the furnace. We rotate it so as it melts, the glass takes a natural parabolic shape.” 

After two days spinning the mirror is allowed to cool, one degree a day for four months, to avoid stresses that could lead to cracks. 

“Then after those four months, we open the top, and see what we have got," McCarthy said. "And we just did that on mirror number three and it is beautiful.”

An observer with the Giant Magellan Telescope’s third primary mirror. (Ray Bertram/University of Arizona)An observer with the Giant Magellan Telescope’s third primary mirror. (Ray Bertram/University of Arizona)
x
An observer with the Giant Magellan Telescope’s third primary mirror. (Ray Bertram/University of Arizona)
An observer with the Giant Magellan Telescope’s third primary mirror. (Ray Bertram/University of Arizona)
But there’s much more work to do, to polish the glass smooth to just the right prescription, with finer and finer tools. The $1-billion project is the largest privately led telescope initiative in history, a global partnership among academic and science institutions.

“It is 10 years of problem solving challenges, careful thinking, doing something that you have never done before," McCarthy said. "That is why it takes a big team, very talented people, a lot of thought, a lot of planning.”

The Giant Magellan is slated to begin operation on a Chilean mountain top in 2020, with four of its seven primary mirrors. When the final stages are complete, it will have 10 times the resolution of the Hubble Space Telescope.  McCarthy acknowledges that he probably will not be around to reap its benefits. 

“These kinds of projects are kind of career-length projects or pretty close to it," he said. "So people like myself, we do this knowing that the next generation will be the users. They will be the ones to make the discoveries. Discoveries that we cannot yet even imagine.”

You May Like

Brutality Eroding IS Financial Support

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper says IS's penchant for publicizing beheadings, other brutal forms of punishment hurts group’s bottom line More

Studies: Climate Change a Factor in Disasters in Syria, California

The studies point to the possibility of clear and present dangers from a threat often considered to be far in the future More

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials and human rights organizations assert that Pakistani authorities are using deadly attack at school in Peshawar as pretext to push out Afghan refugees More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Gary from: Oakland
February 06, 2014 3:35 AM
The reporter should look up the meaning and usage of "comprise."

by: Rob Swift from: Great Britain
February 04, 2014 4:19 PM
The universe can only be as big as it is known (perceived) to be. What we know is a function of light. What we don't know is a function of darkness. Of the four elements that make up the universe you will only see material or earth. If it were not material you wouldn't see it. The great founding fathers of all our physical sciences were looking for Truth within the physical sciences. Keep looking in deep space.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Kerry Seeks Assurances of Russian Non-Interference in Ukrainei
X
March 03, 2015 3:11 AM
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has told his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, that his country could face further consequences to what he called its “already strained economy” if Moscow does not fully comply with a cease-fire in Ukraine. The two met, on Monday, on the sidelines of a U.N. Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva, where Kerry outlined human rights violations in Russian-annexed Crimea and eastern Ukraine. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports from Geneva.
Video

Video Kerry Seeks Assurances of Russian Non-Interference in Ukraine

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has told his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, that his country could face further consequences to what he called its “already strained economy” if Moscow does not fully comply with a cease-fire in Ukraine. The two met, on Monday, on the sidelines of a U.N. Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva, where Kerry outlined human rights violations in Russian-annexed Crimea and eastern Ukraine. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports from Geneva.
Video

Video Smartphones May Help in Diagnosing HIV

Diagnosing infections such as HIV requires expensive clinical tests, making the procedure too costly for many poor patients or those living in remote areas. But a new technology called lab-on-a-chip may make the tests more accessible to many. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials have expressed concern over reports of a crackdown on Afghan refugees in Pakistan following the Peshawar school attack in December. Reports of mass arrests and police harassment coupled with fear of an uncertain future are making life difficult for a population that fled its homeland to escape war. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports from Islamabad.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Prepare to Defend Mariupol

Despite the ongoing ceasefire in Ukraine, soldiers in the city of Mariupol fear that pro-Russian separatists may be getting ready to attack. The separatists must take or encircle the city if they wish to gain land access to Crimea, which was annexed by Russia early last year. But Ukrainian forces, many of them volunteers, say they are determined to defend it. Patrick Wells reports from Mariupol.
Video

Video Moscow Restaurants Suffer in Bad Economy, Look for Opportunity

As low oil prices and Western sanctions force Russia's economy into recession, thousands of Moscow restaurants are expected to close their doors. Restaurant owners face rents tied to foreign currency, while rising food prices mean Russians are spending less when they dine out. One entrepreneur in Moscow has started a dinner kit delivery service for those who want to cook at home to save money but not skimp on quality. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video US, Cuba Report Progress in Latest Talks to Restore Ties

The United States and Cuba say they have made progress in the second round of talks on restoring diplomatic relations more than 50 years after breaking off ties. Delegations from both sides met in Washington on Friday to work on opening embassies in Havana and Washington and iron out key obstacles to historic change. VOA’s Mary Alice Salinas reports from the State Department.
Video

Video Presidential Hopefuls Battle for Conservative Hearts and Minds

One after another, presumptive Republican presidential contenders auditioned for conservative support this week at the Conservative Political Action Conference held outside Washington. The rhetoric was tough as a large field of potential candidates tried to woo conservative support with red-meat attacks on President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress. VOA Political Columnist Jim Malone takes a look.
Video

Video NYC's Restaurant Week: An Economic Boom in Fine Dining

New Yorkers take pride in setting world trends — in fashion, the arts and fine dining. The city’s famous biannual Restaurant Week plays a significant role in a booming tourism industry that sustains 359,000 jobs and generates $61 billion in yearly revenue. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports.
Video

Video Brookhaven at Cutting Edge of US Energy Research

Issues like the Keystone XL pipeline, fracking and instability in the Middle East are driving debate in the U.S. about making America energy independent. Recently, the American Energy Innovation Council urged Congress and the White House to make expanded energy research a priority. One beneficiary of increased energy spending would be the Brookhaven National Lab, where clean, renewable, efficient energy is the goal. VOA's Bernard Shusman reports.
Video

Video Southern US Cities Preserve Civil Rights Heritage to Boost Tourism

There has been a surge of interest in the American civil rights movement of the 1950s and '60s, thanks in part to the Hollywood motion picture "Selma." Five decades later, communities in the South are embracing the dark chapters of their past with hopes of luring tourism dollars. VOA's Chris Simkins reports.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More