Giant Magellan Telescope brings new partner into the fold

Rendering of the Giant Magellan Telescope's primary mirror, consisting of seven mirror segments arranged like petals of a flower.

The University of Arizona produces all primary mirror segments for Giant Magellan Telescope. Each measures 27 feet (8.4 meters) in diameter, and the arrangement resembles petals of a flower.

Giant Magellan Telescope – GMTO Corporation

The Giant Magellan Telescope international consortium welcomed Academia Sinica Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysics, or ASIAA, as its newest member, the consortium announced Tuesday.

ASIAA is Taiwan's leading astronomical institute, housed under the National Academies of Taiwan. ASIAA's inclusion expands the consortium to 14 international research institutions, underscoring GMT's significance to the global astronomy community and the consortium’s commitment to prioritizing global collaboration for the advancement of science.

Using seven of the world's largest mirrors, all of which are produced at the University of Arizona, the 25.4-meter telescope will produce the most detailed images ever taken of the universe. It will uncover the cosmic mysteries of dark matter, investigate the origins of chemical elements and verify signs of life on distant planets for the first time. Currently under construction in Chile and anticipated to be completed in the early 2030s, the observatory is the work of the GMTO Corporation, an international consortium of research institutions representing Australia, Brazil, Chile, Israel, South Korea, Taiwan and the United States.

ASIAA will contribute expertise in areas such as low noise and compact detector electronics, precision detector characterization technology, precision laser cutting technology and many others. These contributions will prove invaluable once the telescope is commissioned.

University of Arizona Richard F. Caris Mirror Lab staff members Damon Jackson (left) and Conrad Vogel (right) in the foreground looking up at the back of primary mirror segment five in April 2019.

University of Arizona Richard F. Caris Mirror Lab staff members Damon Jackson (left) and Conrad Vogel (right) in the foreground looking up at the back of primary mirror segment five in April 2019.

Damien Jemison, Giant Magellan Telescope – GMTO Corporation

"ASIAA is delighted to be a part of the Giant Magellan Telescope consortium, and the Taiwanese scientific community is prepared to contribute its expertise while also benefiting from the wealth of knowledge within the consortium," said ASIAA director Ue-Li Pen. "Joining one of the 30-meter-class telescopes has been a long-term aspiration for Taiwanese astronomers, and GMT is considered the most suitable project for this endeavor."

Anticipated to deepen collaboration between Taiwan and the consortium's six other countries, the partnership establishes a robust foundation for astronomical research in Taiwan, according to Pen, with a particular emphasis on nurturing the development of new generations in the field.

"Building a world-class facility takes engagement from the entire world, and ASIAA brings not only their scientific expertise and financial support, but also continues to broaden the international involvement in this project," said Buell T. Jannuzi, director of Steward Observatory and head of the UArizona Department of Astronomy. "I’m optimistic that this newest partner will strengthen our consortium in the process of attracting critical federal funding for the GMT as part of the U.S. Extremely Large Telescope program."

Construction of the telescope is advancing rapidly in labs around the world and at the site of the observatory in the Chilean Atacama Desert. Over the past year, fabrication commenced on the seventh and final primary mirror segment, and manufacturing of the 39-meter-tall telescope mount has begun in Illinois. Progress includes completion of the first of seven mirror covers in Germany, and work on the telescope’s first adaptive secondary mirror in France and Italy is nearly complete. Other advancements were made on a suite of high-resolution imagers and spectrographs at UArizona and partner institutions in Australia, California, Massachusetts, South Korea and Texas.

Mirrors cast in unique UArizona facility

The primary mirror of the GMT is made by combining six circular primary mirror segments, each 27 feet (8.4 meters) in diameter, around a seventh mirror in the center, like petals of a flower. In October, the final required mirror segment was cast at the UArizona Richard F. Caris Mirror Lab, where it will soon undergo meticulous polishing and testing before embarking on a 5,000-mile journey to the Las Campanas Observatory in Chile's high desert.

GMT's 82-foot-diameter (25.4-meter) primary mirror gives the telescope the resolving power and the ability to see fine detail, 10 times greater than NASA's Hubble Space Telescope and up to 200 times the power of today’s best telescopes. The effort to develop the technology that enabled the GMT is a joint accomplishment of Steward Observatory of the College of Science and the James C. Wyant College of Optical Sciences at the UArizona.

These technologies will empower scientists worldwide, offering unparalleled insights into the evolution of the universe, the origins of chemical elements and the discovery of life on distant exoplanets for the first time.

"We are thrilled to welcome ASIAA into our international consortium of distinguished partners," said GMT board chair Walter Massey. "Together, our consortium combines worldwide science expertise and engineering acumen to create a project that benefits all walks of research relating to the universe. This collective investment in the Giant Magellan Telescope is a testament that science can transcend boundaries and bind humanity together for good."

News of ASIAA's inclusion into the Giant Magellan Telescope’s international consortium was celebrated by elected officials in the United States dedicated to scientific advancements, democratic values and international partnerships.

U.S. Sen. Mark Kelly of Arizona, a former NASA astronaut, emphasized how science collaborations can strengthen international relations.

"Arizona has long been a leader in astronomy and optical research, and thanks to key contributions from the U of A and Arizona State University, the Giant Magellan Telescope will lead the way making the next generation of discoveries in astronomy," Kelly said. "We welcome the newest collaborators from Taiwan to the Giant Magellan consortium and look forward to strengthening ties between Arizona and Taiwan through our shared commitment to democracy, education and innovation."

ASIAA joins these GMTO member institutions in building the Giant Magellan Telescope: Arizona State University, Astronomy Australia Ltd., Australian National University, Carnegie Institution for Science, Harvard University, Korea Astronomy and Space Science Institute, São Paulo Research Foundation, Smithsonian Institution, Texas A&M University, The University of Texas at Austin, the University of Arizona, the University of Chicago and the Weizmann Institute of Science.