Press and News

March 2016

Para leer este Boletín en español, haga clic aquí.

headshot - Patrick McCarthy

The first quarter of 2016 marks an exciting transition time for GMTO. Our new Project Manager has settled in and is moving the project team forward. We have relocated to our new, and long-term, home in Northeast Pasadena. The fourth of seven giant mirrors for the GMT has emerged from the furnace at the University of Arizona, and it looks beautiful.

In February GMTO held a meeting of the Board of Directors that included a large number of new and highly experienced Directors. In this newsletter we profile one new member, Dr. Walter Massey representing the University of Chicago. Dr. Massey personifies the strong leadership and vision needed to bring state-of-the-art scientific facilities to fruition.

GMT scientists, engineers and construction crews are busy at the site in Chile. In coming newsletters we will share further developments in Chile, but you can always learn more from our website,, or from our presence on social media.

– Dr. Patrick McCarthy

Dr. Walter Massey joins the GMTO Board of Directors

headshot - Walter Massey

Dr. Walter Massey.

In October of last year, the GMTO Founders collaborated to broaden the fields of expertise represented on the Board of Directors in anticipation of the start of the construction phase. Dr. Walter Massey was among the new Directors, and he exemplifies the skill and depth of experience within the GMTO Board.

Representing the University of Chicago, Dr. Massey is the President of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, but his career began in the sciences.

Dr. Massey earned his Ph.D. in physics from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. Over his career, he has held several distinguished leadership positions, including Founding Chairman of the Board of Argonne National Laboratory/University of Chicago Development Corporation, Director of the National Science Foundation, Provost for the University of California System, and President of Morehouse College.

These scientific leadership roles enabled Dr. Massey to participate in developing and shaping important issues in science and science policy.

During his time at the National Science Foundation, Dr. Massey was responsible for securing funding for the ambitous LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory) Project; LIGO researchers announced earlier this year that they had discovered gravitational waves, providing evidence to support one of Albert Einstein’s most fundamental contributions to science.

“This is one of the most significant findings in science in the last one hundred years,” Massey said. “A solid affirmation of Einstein’s theory of general relativity and of the existence of black holes. Equally as important, it can open up a new way to ‘see’ the universe.”

Walter Massey - NSF days

Dr. Massey, Director of the National Science Foundation, in Antarctica.

When asked what similarities Dr. Massey notices between LIGO and the Giant Magellan Telescope project, he said, “Both are major, challenging infrastructure projects that require multi-year commitments. But even more importantly, both will allow us to discover ‘new science,’ things we probably don’t even anticipate now.”

As a member of the Board, Dr. Massey will use his experience to help the GMT come to fruition. Already, he has provided valuable insight into matters related to governance, the procurement process, and project management.

“Walter has been an outstanding new member of the Board,” says Dr. Taft Armandroff, Chair of the GMTO Board and Director of McDonald Observatory. “He has jumped in quickly to understand the complexities of the Project and to help us tackle some of our biggest hurdles.”

“Long-term science infrastructure projects require patience, persistence and long term commitments,” says Dr. Massey. “I am very excited to be a member of the GMTO team, and I’m looking forward to doing whatever I can to make sure this project succeeds.”

Analyzing the Atmosphere in Preparation for Construction

Instrument tower

Professional climbers install the finishing touches to one of the two towers on the GMT site.

After traveling vast distances, the light we detect from distant stars and galaxies must pass through earth’s atmosphere, where its path is bent by pockets of hot and cold air, resulting in blurred and distorted images. Characterizing the atmospheric disturbances at the summit site where the Giant Magellan Telescope will be built helps the GMTO team design the best tools to correct the distorted images.

Enter two pieces of equipment with some very important jobs: a Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) unit and a laser scintillometer.

Astronomers use the term “seeing” to describe how much the atmosphere perturbs images of stars as seen through a telescope. Better seeing means that the images are sharper and that the atmosphere is less turbulent. While the Las Campanas Observatory has some of the best astronomical seeing conditions in the world, there is always room for improvement.

The GMT will include a sophisticated Adaptive Optics system designed to correct the effects of the atmosphere. By measuring the distortion of the light and rapidly reshaping the telescope’s secondary mirrors to compensate for this distortion, images of distant objects can be restored to their optimum sharpness.

To design an AO system that is cost-effective and optimized for the GMT, engineers must characterize the atmospheric conditions where the telescope will be built. This is where the LIDAR and the scintillometer come into play, our two newest tools in this process.

LIDAR is used to measure wind speed and direction by reflecting an infrared laser beam off airborne particles as the air flows over the terrain. The reflected signal allows one to measure the speed and direction of the air via the Doppler effect. This translates to a better understanding of wind patterns on the Las Campanas summit. Supplied by SgurrEnergy, the LIDAR system operates 24 hours a day, 7 days per week, scanning the volume of air over the summit. In addition to providing information useful to the design of the AO system, this wind flow data will help inform the detailed design of the telescope’s enclosure.

Segment 4 inspection

José Soto and Francisco Figueroa installing the LIDAR equipment on GMT site at Las Campanas Observatory.

“Scintillation” describes random fluctuation in the brightness of light waves, which can be caused by local differences in the temperature or pressure of the air. The phenomenon is responsible for making stars twinkle. A scintillometer is an instrument that can measure that fluctuation.

GMTO is building an advanced laser scintillometer system that will utilize two high towers on the summit site. Parallel laser beams 2 mm apart will be projected from the ground, off pairs of mirrors located a various heights on the towers, and back to a receiver on the ground. The variation between the signals from the two scintillometer beams will provide information on how much distortion, or scintillation, occurred at the different elevations in the area between the towers.

Together, the LIDAR and the scintillometer will provide important information about the seeing conditions at the GMT site and help to inform the engineering team on how to optimize the adaptive optics and enclosure designs. Several of the GMTO team members are helping with the development and installation of the LIDAR and scintillometer systems including Matthieu Bec, Antonin Bouchez, Alan Conder, Francisco Figueroa, Robert Goodrich, Wylie Rosenthal, Fernando Santoro, and José Soto.

The LIDAR system has been in operation since October 2015; the scintillometer will be installed and commissioned in April 2016. The towers that will support the scintillometer mirrors and other meteorological instruments were erected earlier this year.

Drone image of summit

The GMT site as seen by a drone. The two towers are each 50 meters tall. Image credit: Ricardo Alcayaga.

Video: Watch how the towers were constructed and see a drone’s view of the GMT site.

New Headquarters for GMTO

Hastings Ranch - outside

New GMTO Headquarters at 465 N. Halstead St., Pasadena, CA.

Last week the GMTO Pasadena team moved into its new headquarters in the Hastings Ranch neighborhood of Northeast Pasadena, CA. After several months of work on design, permitting and construction, the space has been converted into a custom office designed to see the GMT project through to First Light and beyond.

The new headquarters houses project engineers, designers and scientists, as well as corporate functions such as Human Resources and Finance. With spectacular views of the San Gabriel Mountains from the north-facing windows, the space is a mix of offices, open-plan workspaces, meeting rooms, and work rooms designed to optimize efficiency and work flow. We are also delighted to open the Magellan Boardroom, a conference room big enough to hold our tri-annual Board Meetings and project reviews. Several rooms, including the boardroom, are equipped with videoconference facilities, allowing easy collaboration with GMTO’s Chile HQ in Santiago and other remote groups.

The new HQ is located at 456 N. Halstead Street, Pasadena, CA, and is GMTO’s fourth HQ in Pasadena in ten years. As the team grew along with the Project, GMTO moved from its first home at Carnegie Observatories on Santa Barbara St to 831 N. Lake Avenue in 2009, then to 251 S. Lake Avenue in 2011. The team spent the first three months of 2016 in temporary space in the Jacobs Building at 155 N. Lake while preparation of our new space was completed.

The project staff is settling into the new space, and we look forward to welcoming friends of GMTO to our new home.

GMTO Staff Photo

GMTO staff at the new Hastings Ranch HQ.

News from the Richard F. Caris Mirror Laboratory

The fourth (central) primary mirror segment came out of the oven at the Steward Observatory’s Richard F. Caris Mirror Lab in late December. The latest series of photos show the mirror lab team removing the enormous glass disk from the furnace hearth and turning it vertical to allow removal of the mold materials in preparation for polishing, a process that will take three to four years to complete.

Segment 4 inspection

The hearth for GMT’s segment 4 mirror was recently opened. In this image the furnace walls are still in place, and technicians are cleaning and inspecting the mirror. Image: Ray Bertram, Richard F. Caris Mirror Lab, University of Arizona.

Segment 4 - fixtures attached

Technicians prepare the mirror for removal from the furnace hearth. A steel fixture is attached to the front surface of the mirror using a high-tech version of bathroom caulk. The adhesive takes a month to cure before it is ready to carry the 40-ton load of the mirror and the mold material. This and following images credit: Karen Kenagy, Richard F. Caris Mirror Lab, University of Arizona.

Segment 4 - lifting

The mirror is now a few feet off the floor as the crew begins the process of lifting and turning the mirror.

Segment 4 - placed in steel ring

The mirror is placed in a large steel ring that will be used to turn the mirror vertical so the crew can remove the bolts and mold material trapped inside the honeycomb structure of the mirror.

Segment 4 being turned

The turning operation – the mirror is turned (slowly!) from horizontal to vertical.

The back of segment 4

The mirror is now upright, and the back surface can be seen. The silicon carbide bolts and floor tiles can be seen still attached to the mirror blank. Over the next few months, the crew will remove the tiles and bolts and will then use water jets to remove the mold material trapped within the honeycomb structure of the mirror blank. Once this is completed, the mirror will be 20 tons lighter and ready for processing.