Press and News

December 2015

Message from the Interim President

headshot - Patrick McCarthy

Welcome! We are excited to share the next edition of GMTO’s Quarterly Newsletter after a brief hiatus. In this edition, we share with you some exciting project milestones, discuss our Groundbreaking Ceremony and Community Science Meeting, and introduce our new Project Manager, James Fanson. 2015 has been a productive year for the Project, and we are excited to ring in 2016. We thank you for following along with us on this journey and look forward to keeping you updated on our latest progress. –Dr. Patrick McCarthy

James Fanson joins GMTO as Project Manager

headshot - James Fanson

Dr. James Fanson. Image credit: Damien Jemison, GMTO.

The Giant Magellan Telescope Organization (GMTO) is pleased to announce the appointment of Dr. James Fanson as Project Manager. The GMTO conducted an international search to identify candidates for this position, and Dr. Fanson stood out in a field of accomplished project managers.

Dr. Fanson has held multiple positions at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) since he joined the organization in 1986. He served as Project Manager for GALEX (Galaxy Evolution Explorer), Kepler, and the Keck Interferometer. In addition, he held key technical and managerial roles for the Spitzer Space Telescope, Hubble Space Telescope’s Wide-Field Planetary Camera 2, and other missions.

“We searched the globe and identified a handful of strong candidates for this key position,” said GMTO Interim President, Dr. Patrick McCarthy. “In the end, the candidate that rose to the top of our list was here in our own backyard. Dr. Fanson brings deep and diverse experience in engineering and management of space- and ground-based telescopes to GMTO. His appointment positions us to take GMT into the construction and commissioning phase with strong technical and managerial leadership.”

“The opportunity to contribute to such an historic endeavor occurs perhaps once in a lifetime,” says Fanson. “The GMT is a great engineering challenge that will help us answer questions about the history, structure, and workings of the universe that are beyond the reach of the current generation of telescopes.”

The stars and the Milky Way piqued Fanson’s interest at an early age as he was growing up in Wisconsin. He recalls carrying his father’s telescope out to his backyard to observe the moons of Jupiter and other celestial objects. As he grew older, he biked to astronomy club meetings of the Milwaukee Astronomical Society, a group that has been together since 1932. Dr. Fanson went on to earn a B.S. degree in Engineering Mechanics at the University of Wisconsin and a doctorate in Applied Mechanics from the California Institute of Technology before joining NASA’s prestigious Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

At GMTO, Fanson’s early objectives include reviewing the organization of the team and the baseline design, continuing production of the optics for the telescope and identifying industrial firms to begin the procurements and civil engineering components of the project.

GMTO Breaks Ground

GMTO celebrated the start of on-site construction with a ceremony held at Las Campanas Observatory on November 11, 2015. The event capped a series of major milestones that were reached over the last 18 months.

In June, the GMT Founders announced that they secured sufficient commitments to support construction and voted unanimously to enter the project construction phase. Not long after that, competitively bid contracts were awarded for installation of power and data to the site and final grading of the road. Construction will soon begin on the site residence that will house the work crew during construction and transition to the staff and visitors’ lodge once the telescope begins commissioning and operations.

The groundbreaking ceremony was attended by nearly 200 people and included distinguished guests from all of GMTO’s Founder institutions. The list of distinguished speakers included Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, Dr. Taft Armandroff, Chair of the GMTO Board of Directors, Prof. Ennio Vivaldi, Rector of the University of Chile, and Mr. Michael Hammer, U.S. Ambassador to Chile. The ceremony hosts included Dr. Miguel Roth and Mr. Mario Kreutzberger, also known as “Don Francisco”, host of the long-running television show Sabado Gigante. Collectively, the group spoke about the impressive engineering behind the GMT and the importance of science and exploration.

Following the speeches, President Bachelet closed the ceremony by striking a large stone from the observatory site producing the distinctive ringing that gives Las Campanas (“the bells”) its name.

Groundbreaking - Bachelet rings stone

From left: Michael Hammer, Michelle Bachelet, Ennio Vivaldi, Taft Armandroff, Miguel Roth, Mario Kreutzberger. Image credit: Damien Jemison, GMTO.

The ceremony was followed by a dance performance by local school children, a dinner banquet, and additional remarks from other distinguished guests. Attendees were then given the unique opportunity to tour the 6.5m Baade Telescope and to view the Saturn Nebula through the Clay telescope and the globular cluster 47 Tuc and other objects through other smaller telescopes.

Images from the event can be found on our website.

Groundbreaking - Southern Sky Viewing

Astronomers from Las Campanas Observatory show guests the southern sky. Image credit: Damien Jemison, GMTO.

Richard F. Caris Mirror Lab Casts Fourth GMT Segment

On September 18, 2015, the University of Arizona rededicated the Steward Observatory Mirror Lab as the Richard F. Caris Mirror Lab, part of Steward Observatory and the College of Optical Sciences. During the ceremony the fourth of the Giant Magellan Telescope’s primary mirror segments reached its high temperature phase as part of the process of forming the mirror blank.

The approximately 20 tons of glass needed for the 8.4m diameter central segment was loaded into a mold housed in a custom-built rotating oven and was heated to a temperature of over 2000°F during the ceremony. Guests had the opportunity to view the oven and learn about the mirror fabrication process. An ultraviolet camera feed also provided a unique opportunity to follow the melting process inside the furnace chamber.

“The casting went flawlessly and we look forward to seeing the cooled blank in January” said GMTO Interim President, Dr. Patrick McCarthy.

Each GMT primary mirror segment qualifies as the largest fabricated mirror in the world. Following the casting process, the segments are meticulously polished over multiple years to make each surface exquisitely smooth and matched to the demanding specifications needed to ensure that the telescope makes sharp images. The second and third mirror segments for the telescope are currently being processed, and glass for the fifth mirror segment has been delivered to Tucson.

The mirror lab was renamed in honor of Richard F. Caris, who donated $20 million to the University of Arizona to support its partnership in the construction of the GMT. At the ceremony, UA President Ann Weaver Hart, College of Science Dean Joaquin Ruiz and others made remarks thanking Mr. Caris for his vision and support.

Timelapse movie of the GMT’s fourth mirror glass melting in the furnace. Video credit: Richard F. Caris Mirror Lab. Find more video at the this Mirror Lab webpage.

4th Mirror Casting - glass loaded

Twenty tons of glass loaded into the oven, and the furnace is ready for placement of the oven lid. Image credit: Ray Bertram, Richard F. Caris Mirror Lab, University of Arizona.

Groundbreaking - Bachelet rings stone

Oven heating begins: the oven is spinning at approximately 5 RPM as the glass heats up to maximum temperature of 1165°C / 2129°F which was achieved at 8:40 pm on Friday, September 18, 2015. Image credit: Ray Bertram, Richard F. Caris Mirror Lab, University of Arizona.

Third Annual GMT Community Science Meeting

“reSolving Galaxies in the Era of Extremely Large Telescopes” was the topic of the Third Annual GMT Community Science Meeting, held at the beautiful Asilomar Conference Grounds in Pacific Grove, CA in October 2015.

Over 120 people gathered to discuss resolved stellar populations and galaxy formation, including galactic archaeology and the use of galaxies as cosmological probes. Dr. Connie Rockoski from UC Santa Cruz gave the opening talk. Other invited speakers included Dr. Beth Willman, LSST Deputy Director, and Dr. Jason Kalirai, JWST Project Scientist at STScI.

Dr. Andrey Kravtsov led the summary discussion on the last day and noted that, “it may be that we cannot even formulate the questions that will be the most exciting in ten to fifteen years.”

Dr. Rebecca Bernstein, GMTO Project Scientist, planned the event with the Scientific Organizing Committee co-chaired by Dr. Charlie Conroy (Harvard), and Dr. Willman.

GMTO hosts the Community Science Meetings each year to encourage thoughtful discussions on a wide range of topics covering astronomy and astrophysics and to stay informed in state-of-the-art research in the field. The event is also an opportunity to reach beyond the consortium to engage the broader astronomical community.

For more information about the event visit the conference website.

CSM2015 - Audience

Delegates in discussion at the Community Science Meeting. Image credit: George Jacoby, GMTO.

CSM2015 - Brendan Griffen presents

Brendan Griffen, MIT, presents results from the Caterpillar Simulation Project. Image credit: George Jacoby, GMTO.

CSM2015 - UCSC colleagues

UC Santa Cruz colleagues Elisa Toloba, Alis Deason, and Emily Cunningham catch up at the Community Science Meeting. Image credit: Amanda Kocz, GMTO.