Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Daniel. Daniel Wonders, “Who made the giant telescope?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Daniel!
These are the types of questions that keep astronomers busy. They search the skies for clues that will one day lead to answers. With modern technology, scientists hope to create new tools to help them find answers.
When will the Giant Magellan Telescope be ready? Experts say hopefully by 2025. Then, it will sit atop a 22-story building in the Las Campanas Observatory in Chile. It’s located in the arid Atacama Desert at an elevation of over 8,500 feet. The telescope will see around 300 clear nights each year.
The GMT will consist of a total of seven huge mirrors. They’ll be arranged in a configuration that looks like a flower petal. Each of the mirrors measures 27 feet in diameter and weighs about 17 tons.
Together, the mirrors will form a single optical surface 80 feet in diameter. It will have a total collecting area of over 4,000 square feet. This design will give the GMT a resolving power 10 times greater than the Hubble Space Telescope.
Astronomers believe the GMT will allow them to capture light coming from the farthest reaches of the universe. They also think it will help them identify the planets that orbit other stars. Some of these could support life.
Before any of that can happen, however, the telescope has to be finished. And that means the seven huge, ultra-precise mirrors must be made. The first of the mirrors took nearly a decade to create. The scientists making the mirrors hope that the last several mirrors will only take about four years each to finish.
The mirrors for the Giant Magellan Telescope are some of the most difficult ever made. Not only are they large and heavy, but they must also be shaped with precision and polished to within one-millionth of an inch of perfection.
This is no easy task. It starts with placing 20 tons of borosilicate glass chunks by hand into a mold shaped like a honeycomb. This is then rotated for three months in a special furnace. It reaches temperatures of over 2,100˚ F.
Once the basic shape of the mirror is made, it is then put through the process of shaping and polishing. The mirror is only finished when its surface has been perfected to within 20 nanometers. That’s the thickness of a single glass molecule!
Standards: NGSS.ESS1.A, CCRA.L.3, CCRA.L.6, CCRA.R.1, CCRA.R.2, CCRA.R.4, CCRA.R.10, CCRA.SL.1, CCRA.SL.2, CCRA.W.2, CCRA.W.4, CCRA.L.1, CCRA.L.1