Australia Gives $72 Million for the Giant Magellan Telescope
The Steward Observatory Mirror Lab is now polishing the first GMT mirror.

Lori Stiles
July 28, 2009


The Australian government has announced that it will provide $88.4 million AUD, or $72.4 million USD, to help fund the revolutionary 25-meter Giant Magellan Telescope to be sited at Las Campanas Observatory in Chile's high-altitude Atacama Desert.

This brings the funding that has been raised to date to $200 million out of approximately $700 million total needed to complete GMT construction, which is scheduled for 2019.

The GMT will be built and operated by a consortium of institutions from the United States, South Korea, and Australia.

Larger and more powerful than any previous optical telescope, it will be up to 100 times more sensitive than current ground-based telescopes, and will produce images 10 times sharper than those from the Hubble Space Telescope.

GMTO Corporation Board Chairperson and Carnegie Observatories director Wendy Freedman said, "We are delighted at the success of our Australian colleagues. This funding will give Australian astronomers access to about 10 percent of the time on the GMT, and assure that they remain at the forefront of astronomical research. It provides another strong boost of forward momentum for the project, one of many it has received of late."

Harvey Butcher, director of the Australian National University Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics and Mount Stromlo Observatory said, "Involvement in GMT will strongly advance Australia's contributions to science and innovation and provide a focus for attracting the next generation of scientists and engineers."

"We are thrilled to have the Australians as partners in GMT," said GMT board member and University of Arizona Astronomy Professor Dennis Zaritsky. "While their financial contribution helps the project continue on its ambitious schedule, they also bring outstanding experience on both scientific and technical matters.

"Partnerships like this one demonstrate how positively our investment in the Steward Observatory Mirror Lab is viewed worldwide and how it enables the UA to maintain its leadership in astronomy," Zaritsky said.

"Australia's action strengthens the GMTO and will help us build the telescope we dream of in Chile. To achieve this dream takes money, talent, and grit. The Australians are bringing all three," said Patrick McCarthy, director of the GMTO.

The GMT will combine seven 8.4-meter primary mirror segments resulting in an equivalent 24.5-meter telescope. The UA's Steward Observatory Mirror Laboratory is currently polishing the first of these mirrors it will cast for the GMT.

The giant telescope will be used to explore currently unanswered questions about the nature of dark matter and dark energy, the origin of the first stars and first galaxies, and the mysteries of star formation, galaxy evolution, and black hole growth. The GMT will also play a key role in the detection and imaging of planets around nearby stars.

In the United States the participating institutions are the UA, Carnegie Institution for Science, Harvard University, the Smithsonian Institution, Texas A& M University and the University of Texas at Austin. The two Australian members of the Founders group are the Australian National University and Astronomy Australia Limited.

Earlier this year, the South Korean government approved participation in the GMT project, with the Korea Astronomy and Space Science Institute as the representative of the Korean astronomical community.

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Dennis Zaritsky

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dzaritsky@as.arizona.edu