Press and News

August 2016

Welcome to the August newsletter

Early summer has been busy for the project office. We held our first open house for family and friends of GMTO – over 200 people attended and met with project staff. We also held our June board meeting in Cambridge, MA, and are grateful to the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics for hosting us. At the end of June, we had a strong presence at the SPIE: Astronomical Telescopes and Instrumentation conference in Edinburgh, UK.

In this newsletter you can read about the changing face of the GMT site at Las Campanas as new buildings are constructed, find out about how computational modeling is helping us finalize the enclosure design, read how Board Member Anne-Marie Lansdown led the transformation of research infrastructure in Australia, and more.

You can always keep up to date with what’s happening at GMTO from our website,, or from our presence on social media.

– Dr. Patrick McCarthy

Construction Update

Since the groundbreaking ceremony at Las Campanas last November, the GMTO team working on the telescope site has been busy finalizing civil works and building the housing needed for the construction workers due on site later in the year. The scintillometer system is also now complete and is taking valuable data.


In the past month, several new buildings have been constructed on the GMT site. Rocterra leveled two off-summit support sites, and pre-fabricated units, built by Tecnofast, have been arriving by truck from Santiago. The units are being assembled on site and will be furnished and undergo interior finishing over the next few months.

Support Site 1 will house laboratory and workshop buildings. Support Site 2 is divided into three pads: Pad 1 is for a 68-dorm building, Pad 2 will house the kitchen and recreation facilities, and Pad 3 will host a 24-dorm building. During construction the 68-dorm building will house the construction workers in shifts, and the 24-dorm building will house GMTO staff working onsite. An on-summit office has also recently been constructed.

GMT site map

Las Campanas Observatory: location of key sites.

GMT summit offices

Summit offices nearing completion on the GMT site. Image credit: Ricardo Alcayaga.

Support Site 2

A bird’s eye view of Support Site 2. Top: 68-dorm building is under construction; Bottom: 24-dorm building complete. Image credit: Ricardo Alcayaga.

Environmental Monitoring

Wylie - scintillometer

(Front) GMTO Engineer Wylie Rosenthal working on deploying the scintillometer.

In May, the final installation and testing of the scintillometer system was completed. The design and installation of this system required the efforts of GMTO staff in Pasadena, Santiago and La Serena, our contractors Tecmec, Rocterra, Incotell, Alderete, our outsourced safety crew Ricardo Alcayaga and Julio Cintolesi, as well as the Herreros tower climbing crew.

In preparation for deployment, José Soto and GMTO staff in Santiago coordinated the installation of utilities, foundations, data networks and other infrastructure required to support this experiment and future environmental monitoring systems.

For the deployment campaign, José Soto and Wylie Rosenthal spent two weeks installing, aligning and testing the scintillometer components at ground level, often working at night and in strong winds. The Herreros tower climber crew then spent three nights installing and precisely aligning the 18 fold-mirrors that reflect the scintillometer laser between the two weather towers (9 levels, from 5 meters (16 ft) to 48 meters (157 ft) above grade).

Scintillometer fold mirror

A fold mirror, showing the reflection of the scintillometer base.

The system is now successfully taking measurements of the air turbulence at several different heights across the site every few minutes. For more background on the system, please read the article in our previous newsletter.

Civil Works

The civil works program, which started nearly a year ago, is almost complete, with roads and power connections installed and water connection work begun.

The summit road has been widened and the slopes adjusted to allow for the transportation of large components and construction materials to the summit.

Power is provided to the summit and support sites via an overland connection from Las Campanas Observatory’s power system, and once at the site it becomes an underground connection. This supply will support construction on the summit and operation of the residence and construction offices. Before the start of operations, the power lines will be rerouted to an alternative supplier capable of providing the capacity needed for operations.

A new solar energy water pumping system was recently installed. The construction of this system is a combined effort between Carnegie (owner of the Las Campanas Observatory) and GMTO. Replacing 45-year old diesel powered pumps, the new system will pump 15 thousand liters (4000 gallons) of water a day from an altitude of 1500 meters (4900 ft) to 2500 meters (8200 ft) above sea level, where the main water reservoir for both observatories is located.

Solar pumping station

Mountain Superintendent Marcelo Rodriquez and consultant Mariano Lopez at the solar energy water pumping station.

More updates

Our Facebook and Instagram pages share continued construction updates and photos – join us there to keep up to date on the latest developments from the GMT site!

Board Member Profile: Anne-Marie Lansdown

headshot - Anne-Marie Lansdown

Anne-Marie Lansdown.

Anne-Marie Lansdown joined the Board in October 2015, and was most recently the Deputy CEO of Universities Australia, the top advocacy body for Australia’s universities. She served in the Senior Executive Service of the Australian Government’s Industry Department for 15 years. Internationally, she has engaged with organizations including the UN, The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation.

Ms. Lansdown first became involved in government and funding for scientific research while working on Australia’s Innovation and Broadband strategies. At the time, Australia was developing a national strategy to consolidate the country’s existing research strengths and open new research frontiers.

Under Ms. Lansdown’s leadership, in 2004, a consensus was formed among universities and research agencies to form a national funding model. Called the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS), this strategy brought funding for a range of facilities, such as optical and radio telescopes, the Australian Synchrotron, the Australian Microscopy and Microanalysis Research Facility, the Pawsey Supercomputing Centre, and many others, under multi-year, multi-billion dollar funding envelope (more details on facilities can be found here). NCRIS is still being funded today and continues to enable researchers to build world-class research infrastructure.

A key part of NCRIS was the formation of small, independent not-for-profit companies tasked with representing each scientific discipline to the government. One of GMTO’s partner organizations, Astronomy Australia Ltd (AAL), was established for this purpose. Under NCRIS, as a result of the recommendation of the Australian astronomy community, AAL invested in several large-scale astronomy infrastructure projects, including the Giant Magellan Telescope.

The success of individual facilities in addressing Australia’s national science needs has produced some unexpected outcomes. Ms. Lansdown says “the quality of the facilities has drawn world class research teams from around the globe, and by extending the support in the facilities to businesses, many more university-business collaborations are emerging”.

As a member of the GMTO Board, Ms. Lansdown brings her experience in science policy and strategic planning to support the GMT. “Australia is a vital contributor to both international radio and optical astronomy infrastructure. Our early involvement in the GMT allowed Australia to have a role in governance decisions that will be critical to its success,” says Lansdown. “I think the experience we bring in collaborative research infrastructure development will also be of great benefit.”

GMT Director Patrick McCarthy agrees. “Australia’s many contributions – scientific, technical and financial – have been central to the development of the project to date. Anne-Marie brings an added dimension of management and science policy expertize to the board. We are privileged to have her as part of the GMTO governing body.”

CFD Modeling of the Giant Magellan Telescope Site & Enclosure

To get the best images of the cosmos, there must be minimal turbulence and temperature variations in the air above the telescope. Gaining a better understanding of the interaction between the wind microclimate at Las Campanas and the design of the GMT’s telescope enclosure is an important task.

Telescopes are usually located in mountainous and remote areas and such locations rarely have high quality long-term records of the wind conditions and can be subject to highly complex wind patterns. As a result, engineers use computational fluid dynamics (CFD) to simulate windflow and climate patterns at these locations. CFD is the use of applied mathematics, physics and computational software to visualize how a gas or liquid flows — and how the fluid affects objects as it flows past.

Working with CFD engineers and scientists from Boeing Research & Technology (BR&T), and RWDI, a consulting engineering firm, GMTO’s enclosure group is conducting design studies to understand how the telescope’s position on the site and the enclosure design could be optimized to maximize telescope image quality.

Boeing - CFD model

Flow lines around the GMT enclosure from CFD studies by Boeing.

RWDI - CFD model

Flow lines around the GMT enclosure from CFD studies by RWDI.

This is a work in progress and further analysis will include more detailed computational modeling of wind conditions and solar modeling to understand the impact of daytime heating on the enclosure, and wind tunnel testing to gather wind pressure data to validate the CFD model predictions of wind effects on the telescope, optics and enclosure.

“We want to produce the sharpest images possible, so a high-performance aerodynamic design is critical,” said Bruce Bigelow, the element manager for the GMT enclosure. “CFD studies have already generated immediate and valuable insights into the GMT’s site and enclosure design,” Bigelow said.

Request for Proposals for the telescope main structure


The Giant Magellan Telescope project formally entered its Construction Phase in June 2015. The telescope’s 8.4 meter (27 ft) mirrors are in various stages of fabrication at the Richard F. Caris Mirror Lab at the University of Arizona, and the site civil work is underway at Las Campanas Observatory. The next major procurement for GMTO will be the final design and construction of the telescope main structure.

GMTO will issue a request for proposals for this procurement late in 2016, and will hold an industry interaction conference in Pasadena on September 21 & 22, 2016. Qualified companies interested in bidding for this contract will be invited to attend and will have the opportunity to become familiar with the form and content of the RFP and the reference design, as well as interact with GMTO Project staff managing the RFP.

In preparation for releasing the RPF, supporting materials and high-level requirements will be provided through the GMTO website.

GMT Community Science Meeting

E3LT poster

Fourth Annual GMT Community Science Meeting poster. Download a PDF here.

The Fourth Annual GMT Community Science Meeting, sponsored by the Giant Magellan Telescope Organization, will be held September 26–28, 2016 at the Asilomar Conference Grounds in Pacific Grove, California. The theme of the meeting is “Exoplanets in the Era of Extremely Large Telescopes.”

New observing techniques, instrumentation, and theoretical understanding have fueled the recent dramatic growth in exoplanet observations and theory.

At this conference, scientists from around the world will gather to discuss the current and future status of research on exoplanet detection techniques, characterization, system dynamics, and formation mechanisms and time scales, with a view towards the roles of future observatories and instrumentation in these areas.

The conference will include a gala banquet to be held at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

For more information and registration details (deadline Sept. 1), visit the conference website: