Tomorrow Transformed

World’s largest telescope to explore universe’s deepest secrets

Story highlights

The Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT) will be the world's largest optical telescope

Built on a Chilean mountainside, it will offer the best glimpses of the early universe so far

CNN  — 

In the vast expanse of the universe, we are still trying to find our place. Is there anyone else out there? Where do we come from? Are there other habitable planets like our own?

These are just some of the questions astronomers and scientists grapple with on a daily basis.

Now they’re rolling out the big guns.

Astronomers are enlisting a massive new telescope on a mountainside at Chile’s Las Campanas Observatory in their quest for answers.

The Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT), will be the biggest Earth-based optical telescope ever built, ushering in a new era of deep space exploration.

“The GMT will herald the beginning of a new era in astronomy. It will reveal the first objects to emit light in the universe, explore the mysteries of dark energy and dark matter, and identify potentially habitable planets in the Earth’s galactic neighborhood,” said Wendy Freedman, chair of the Giant Magellan Telescope Organization (GMTO) board of directors and university professor of astronomy and astrophysics at the University of Chicago.

“The decision by the GMTO partner institutions to start construction is a crucial milestone on our journey to making these amazing discoveries using state-of-the-art science, technology and engineering,” she said.

Sharper than Hubble

Not only will the GMT be the largest optical telescope in the world but – with its seven mirrors spanning a single reflective surface of 25 meters – it will be able to produce spectacular images, 10 times sharper than ones taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, GMTO says.

The telescope will be built near existing large telescopes in a huge dome structure 22 stories high in the dry air of Chile’s Atacama Desert. Its remote location will allow it to capture incredible images of the skies above without being hindered by urban light pollution.

The $1 billion telescope has secured half of its funding, thanks to its 11 international partners, and is expected to see first light in 2021, becoming fully operational by 2024.

GMTO president Edward Moses said: “The GMT is a global scientific collaboration, with institutional partners in Australia, Brazil, Korea, the United States, and in host nation Chile. The construction approval means work will begin on the telescope’s core structure and the scientific instruments that lie at the heart of this $1 billion project.