Sometime after 2020 or so, the revolutionary, 80-foot Giant Magellan Telescope will peer into deep space and back into time from a peak in Chile's Atacama Desert.
The telescope is a big deal because it will collect more light than any before and will be capable of getting close to maximum resolutions once thought possible only from space. The GMT's advanced adaptive optics will be a quantum leap beyond the Hubble Space Telescope's once cutting-edge technology.
Construction on the third of the GMT's seven primary mirrors began recently. The mirrors, which are 27 feet across and weigh 20 tons each, are cast in the rotating furnace at the University of Arizona's Steward Observatory Mirror Lab. It takes a year to polish and grind each one.
When construction is finished, the GMT will be capable of detecting Earth-size planets outside the solar system. The telescope will also spot black holes, observe the earliest galaxies and plumb the nature of dark matter and dark energy. The fact that this will be possible from an earthly desert peak is mind-boggling.
Designed and built by a nonprofit, the GMT will be part of a global network of new telescopes that will help humanity understand the nature of the universe. Galileo would be proud.