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

    Turkey, US Splits Deepen Over Support for Kurdish Militants

    Ankara summons American ambassador to protest remarks by State Department spokesman who said Washington does not consider Syria's Kurdish Democracy Union Party (PYD) a terrorist organization

    Obama Seeking $19 Billion for National Cybersecurity

    Move, touted as attempt to build broad, cohesive federal response to cyberthreats, calls for increase in cybersecurity spending across all government agencies

    Video Foreign Policy Weighs Heavy for Some US Voters

    VOA talks to protesters in Manchester, New Hampshire, who sound off on foreign policy issues such as the Guantanamo Bay prison, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the wars in Iraq, Syria and Yemen

    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.
    Valentine's Day Stinks for Lebanese Clownsi
    X
    February 09, 2016 8:04 PM
    This weekend, on Valentine's Day in Lebanon, love is not the only thing in the air. More than half a year after the country's trash crisis began, the stink of uncollected garbage remains on the streets. Step forward "Clown Me In," a group of clowns who use their skills for activism. Before the most romantic day of the year the clowns have released their unusual take on love in Lebanon -- in a bid to keep the pressure up and get the trash off the streets. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Valentine's Day Stinks for Lebanese Clowns

    This weekend, on Valentine's Day in Lebanon, love is not the only thing in the air. More than half a year after the country's trash crisis began, the stink of uncollected garbage remains on the streets. Step forward "Clown Me In," a group of clowns who use their skills for activism. Before the most romantic day of the year the clowns have released their unusual take on love in Lebanon -- in a bid to keep the pressure up and get the trash off the streets. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Rocky Year Ahead for Nigeria Amid Oil Price Crash

    The global fall in the price of oil has rattled the economies of many petroleum exporters, and Africa’s oil king Nigeria is no exception. As Chris Stein reports from Lagos, analysts are predicting a rough year ahead for the continent’s top producer of crude.
    Video

    Video Foreign Policy Weighs Heavy for Some US Voters

    VOA talks to protesters in Manchester, New Hampshire who sound off on foreign policy issues such as the Guantanamo Bay Prison, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Middle East Affairs and national security.
    Video

    Video 'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenya

    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video New Hampshire Voters Are Independent, Mindful of History

    Once every four years, the northeastern state of New Hampshire becomes the center of the U.S. political universe with its first-in-the-nation presidential primary. What's unusual about New Hampshire is how seriously the voters take their role and the responsibility of being among the first to weigh in on the candidates.
    Video

    Video Chocolate Lovers Get a Sweet History Lesson

    Observed in many countries around the world, Valentine’s Day is sometimes celebrated with chocolate festivals. But at a festival near Washington, the visitors experience a bit more than a sugar rush. They go on a sweet journey through history. VOA’s June Soh takes us to the festival.
    Video

    Video 'Smart' Bandages Could Heal Wounds More Quickly

    Simple bandages are usually seen as the first line of attack in healing small to moderate wounds and burns. But scientists say new synthetic materials with embedded microsensors could turn bandages into a much more valuable tool for emergency physicians. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Bhutanese Refugees in New Hampshire Closely Watching Primary Election

    They fled their country and lived in refugee camps in neighboring Nepal for decades before being resettled in the northeastern U.S. state of New Hampshire -- now the focus of the U.S. presidential contest. VOA correspondent Aru Pande spoke with members of the Bhutanese community, including new American citizens, about the campaign and the strong anti-immigrant rhetoric of some of the candidates.
    Video

    Video Researchers Use 3-D Printer to Produce Transplantable Body Parts

    Human organ transplants have become fairly common around the world in the past few decades. Researchers at various universities are coordinating their efforts to find solutions -- including teams at the University of Pennsylvania and Rice University in Houston that are experimenting with a 3-D printer -- to make blood vessels and other structures for implant. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, they are also using these artificial body parts to seek ways of defeating cancerous tumors.
    Video

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.