Press and News

June 2017

Welcome to the June newsletter

Spring 2017 has been a time of good progress at the Giant Magellan Telescope project.

In May, GMTO President, Dr. Robert N. Shelton, completed 100 days in office. He has reached out to GMTO’s Founder institutions, making connections with institutional leaders and development professionals. He has applied his expert leadership skills within GMTO and is closely engaged with the Board of Directors.

The deadline for proposals for the final design and fabrication of the telescope mount closed in May, and GMTO received five proposals from teams spread across three continents. This level of response is encouraging to the project team, and we are confident of getting a great outcome from the process.

In June, the team at the Richard F. Caris Mirror Lab at the University of Arizona began polishing the front surface the second primary mirror segment using new tools that they developed and tested. The mirror lab team will spend approximately 18 months polishing this mirror while working on other GMT mirror segments.

We look forward to sharing our recent progress with you. Remember 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

First visitors to the GMT Residence

In mid-March, the new GMT Residence at Las Campanas Observatory became fully operational and soon after we welcomed a large group of visitors from one of GMT’s Founder institutions, along with the US Ambassador to Chile, the US Embassy’s science and press attachés and their staff. The entire GMTO Chile staff were involved in the coordination of the visit, led locally by GMTO Representative in Chile, Dr. Miguel Roth, and Outreach Coordinator, Valentina Rodríguez.

The GMT Residence

The GMT Residence.

The overnight program included a visit to the nearby Magellan telescopes, as well as to the GMT site and summit offices. On the summit, two white painted circles representing the outer limit of the telescope pier and the enclosure made a strong impression on our visitors.

Visitors on the GMT summit

Visitors on the GMT summit.

GMT summit showing the circles representing the enclosure and pier circumference

GMT summit showing the circles representing the enclosure and pier circumference.

In the afternoon, GMTO Director, Dr. Patrick McCarthy, described the evolution of telescopes and how the GMT will be well placed to make breakthrough discoveries. Then, Smithsonian astronomer Dr. Mercedes Lopez-Morales gave a well-received talk about extra-solar planets and the potential for GMT to detect signatures of extraterrestrial life.

GMT Representative in Chile, Dr. Miguel Roth, with the Milky Way in the background

GMT Representative in Chile, Dr. Miguel Roth, with the Milky Way in the background. Image credit: Mauricio Hernandez.

After dinner, served at sunset in cafeteria style, the group was escorted to a specially prepared sheltered flat area for stargazing with three telescopes and binoculars. The darkness of the moonless sky made the experience very special and visitors took great delight observing Southern Hemisphere objects such as the Magellanic Clouds, globular clusters and bright nebulae. A photographer was on hand to take visitors’ photos with the Milky Way in the background.

After a good night’s sleep and breakfast, several visitors were interviewed by the media while others returned to the GMT summit. The visitors then started their return trip that, in many cases, included other stops in Chile and South America.

Overall, visitors reported they were impressed by the quality of the rooms and the dining facilities, as well as activities provided at Las Campanas.

The highlight of the visit was, of course, the stargazing.

We expect to welcome many more visitors to the site in the coming years.

Do you want to see the site for yourself? Check out the video below, taken on an early visit to the GMT site in December 2016, by Chilean youtuber Ricardo García – on the Astrovlog channel. In the video he describes his overnight visit – and shows us the site, and the dormitories (English subtitles)

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Request for Telescope Mount Proposals: Update

Detail of the telescope mount

Detail of the telescope mount.

In February, the GMT Project released a Request for Proposals (RFP) for the final design and construction of the telescope’s main structure (“the telescope mount”). The deadline for responses was May 19, 2017, and we are delighted to report that GMT received proposals from five teams spread across three continents.

The next stage of the process is to evaluate the proposals and make a selection – a process which is expected to take approximately two months.

More information about the RFP process is available on the GMTO website.

Profile: Marianne Cox, Software Release Manager

headshot - George Angeli

Marianne Cox.

We are very pleased to welcome Marianne Cox to the GMTO family. Marianne joins us as GMTO’s Software Release Manager where she is responsible for building, integrating, deploying and delivering the different software releases of the GMT Software and Control System.

For this newsletter, Marianne answered some questions about her life and career.

What sparked your interest in science?

I was fortunate to grow up in the 1980s and 1990s, right alongside digital computing, in a house with tons of books and an Olivetti M24 personal computer (later to be replaced by an IBM XT). We spent hours on the computer, playing games, figuring out how the software and hardware worked, tinkering to get the most out of the limited resources (20MB hard disk space, 512K RAM and an 8MHz processor) and learning how to fix it when it broke.

What was your first experience with astronomy?

Technically, I’ve never looked through a real telescope, but I was about 9 years old when I went to the Cape Town Planetarium for the first time. I’ll always remember the feeling of trying to grasp the infinite, being a tiny part of an incredibly beautiful universe as I watched the projected night sky. Sleeping underneath the stars, watching countless shooting stars and tracking the Milky Way as it rotates throughout the night is also one of my favorite childhood memories.
Within your field, what area fascinates you most and why?

I’m fascinated by Human-Machine interfaces, Artificial Intelligence and Robotics, as well as Big Data and the concept of the Internet of Things. What unites these various areas are the questions “where are we headed as a civilization?” and “what role will technology play in our future?” We are capable of so much, and the advancement of technology is speeding up exponentially. The next big leap forward is just around the corner!
What has been your most rewarding accomplishment to-date?

Shortly after starting my career, I was chosen to represent my team at the world’s largest Beverage Industry Trade Show, DrinkTec, in Munich, Germany. It was both an honor and a massive responsibility to oversee the launch of our new communications platform and touchscreen user interface. The software was a big leap forward, from a complicated industrial user interface to a more user-friendly one, inspired by trends in consumer electronics. At the time, the recently launched Apple iPhone was helping change the way people think about human-machine interfaces.
It was my job to ensure that the demonstrations on the showroom floor went smoothly. I also had to train the sales staff on all the new features, answer any questions on current or upcoming functionality and collect valuable feedback to help determine the future direction of the product. The trade show was a huge success and I felt extremely proud of my team!

What was your initial impression of GMTO and why did you get involved?

In my view, GMTO is a group of extremely smart individuals, passionate about their respective fields, and united around a shared goal – advancing our understanding of the universe. I appreciate the fact that the company and the project is well-organized and that time is taken to do things right.

I got involved in GMTO because the most rewarding thing in any career is for your contribution to mean something; to make a difference. To be a part of a project with the potential to lead to the next great scientific discovery is its own reward.

What does your work as Software Release Manager at GMTO involve?

What I find impressive about the GMT project is the collection of software modules required to operate the telescope and perform scientific observations. From programming sensors and actuators to move large mechanical components with extraordinary precision, to providing state-of-the-art User Interfaces for managing and monitoring scientific observations and carefully collecting data for analysis. Many of these software components, including scientific instruments, will be created by teams around the world, from various partner institutions.
As Software Release Manager, I plan and execute software releases for all submodules. It’s my responsibility to ensure that we use consistent tools and processes for software development and source code management, and have automated build and test procedures in place. At this stage of the project, we’re mainly working on the common software framework, and software releases are done to external development teams that will build on this framework. As more individual software components move into development and testing, the release schedule will start to become much more complex and careful monitoring and reporting will be required to ensure high standards of quality.
I’m very excited to be a part of the massive collaboration effort required, across many different disciplines, to make this project a success.

GMTIFS: Designing an instrument at the Australian National University

Background for this article was provided by Ian Price, Senior Software Engineer, and Dr. James Gilbert, Project Engineer, at the Research School of Astronomy & Astrophysics at the Australian National University in Canberra.

A first-light instrument for the GMT is being developed at the Advanced Instrumentation and Technology Centre (AITC) at the Research School of Astronomy & Astrophysics at the Australian National University. GMTIFS – the GMT Integral Field Spectrograph – is a near-infrared integral field spectrograph and camera that is specially designed to look at fine detail in objects such as the centers of galaxies and disks associated with young stars.

External and internal design of GMTIFS. The whole unit is approximately 2.7m x 2.4m x 1.8m.

External and internal design of GMTIFS. The whole unit is approximately 2.7m x 2.4m x 1.8m.

GMTIFS will work with GMT’s laser tomography adaptive optics system which uses 6 sodium lasers, plus one off-axis natural guide star, to deliver a diffraction limited field approximately 1/60th the size of the full moon. In the AITC lab this month, the GMTIFS team is testing one small, but very important, part of the adaptive optics system – the “on-instrument wavefront sensor” (OIWFS) for the natural guide star.

This system is designed to make the off-axis natural guide star sharper so it is a better reference for the laser guide star system. Controlled by the main adaptive optics system, the OIWFS corrects the distortion introduced by the atmosphere in the direction of the off-axis natural guide star. It concentrates the star’s light and permits an accurate measurement of its position. Knowing the position of the natural guide star helps stabilize the laser-corrected data that are sent to the spectrograph or camera.

The unique challenge with the OIWFS is that it needs to be located deep within the instrument, and in the case of GMTIFS, and many other instruments, means it is in a cryogenically cooled environment.

The team has been testing a key component of any adaptive optics system: the deformable mirror. Deformable mirrors can change their surface shape thanks to actuators pushing or pulling on their back surface. Using this kind of mirror in a cold environment has the potential to affect how the front surface and rear actuators function. No “Commercial Off The Shelf” deformable mirror for astronomy has been used in a cryogenic environment before, so these tests are groundbreaking.

Dr. James Gilbert and Ian Price

Dr. James Gilbert (left) and Ian Price (right) with the deformable mirror test bench. The cold chamber for the mirror is inside the pink bubble wrap.

Thanks to the work of John Hart, Senior Optomechanical Engineer at ANU, the team opted to place the mirror inside its own “warmer” chamber within the cryogenic environment of the instrument. This makes the environment slightly less challenging for the mirror. Temperatures are relative however, and “warm” in this case means -40C (-40F).

The deformable mirror technology being tested now was one of two types that underwent initial trials. This mirror, made by Boston Micromachines, is 9.5mm on a side and has 492 actuators. The actuators can move the surface of the mirror up to 400 microns. The team is testing the response of a representative fraction of the actuators to see if they function in a precisely consistent way over time in the cold environment. The mirror is tested at room temperature, then stepped down in 5C increments until it reaches -40C. Each test takes about 3 hours and tests will be conducted once a week for three months.

This cooled deformable mirror technology has the potential to be used inside any GMT instrument that uses a natural guide star. Testing the deformable mirror in the cold environment is just one small part of the GMTIFS project that will ultimately take years to design, build and test. With highly skilled engineers at ANU and other GMT founder institutions working on the instruments for the project, we can be sure the science they deliver will transform our understanding of the universe.

Technical details of GMTIFS are on the GMTO website and on the ANU website.

Community Science Meeting: Registration Open

Click to download a copy of the poster

Click image to download a copy of the poster.

Registration is now open for the 5th Annual GMT Community Science Meeting. The meeting, Chemical Evolution of the Universe, will take place September 17–20, 2017 at the Tarrytown House Estate in Tarrytown, NY. The meeting will bring observers, modelers, and theorists from around the world together to discuss the chemical evolution of the Universe across the entire sweep of cosmic history, with an eye toward the progress enabled by the coming extremely large telescopes. 

Topics will include: the birth of the first stars; the formation of the first galaxies; the formation and growth of supermassive black holes; galaxies at the peak of star formation in the universe; studies of damped Lyman-alpha systems, the interstellar medium, the intergalactic medium, and the circumgalactic medium; and studies of resolved stellar populations and metal-poor stars in the Milky Way and nearby galaxies.

The meeting program will encourage workshop-style discussion at a beautiful retreat in the Hudson Valley.

There is no registration fee. Partial travel reimbursement may be provided for graduate students and postdocs.

Find out more about the meeting, and see the list of invited speakers at

We look forward to seeing you there!

Public outreach activities in Chile

Public engagement is a priority for GMTO in Chile. We want citizens, especially children, to value the amazing skies of northern Chile and become aware of the enormous potential that this entails. We have carried out several activities in the past months to engage with the public, both in Santiago and La Serena. We were happy to see the enthusiasm demonstrated by people of all ages and backgrounds.


In March, GMTO participated in AstroDay, a yearly outreach activity that has been organized by the Gemini South Observatory in La Serena since 2007. This year, the event was hosted by a school located in a disadvantaged area of La Serena. Around 1,300 people, both adults and children, enjoyed activities such as solar observations, public talks, workshops, and informative booths from the main observatories based in Chile. Outreach Coordinator, Valentina Rodríguez hosted the GMT booth, and Electronics Engineer, José Soto, captivated 2nd graders with a presentation on the principles of optics and GMT’s superb capacity to observe the Universe.

Valentina Rodríguez with the GMT booth at AstroDay in March

Valentina Rodríguez with the GMT booth at AstroDay in March.

José Soto explains telescopes to 2nd graders at AstroDay in March

José Soto explains telescopes to 2nd graders at AstroDay in March.

Ingeniosas Fair

In April, several public and private institutions in Chile, including GMTO, joined forces to celebrate the “Ingeniosas” (Smart girls) Fair in the frame of the UN International Girls in ICT Day. The four-day event, led by Girls in Tech Chile and ComunidadMujer, was simultaneously hosted in 6 cities (Antofagasta, La Serena, Valparaíso, Concepción, Temuco and Santiago) and reached over 2,100 girls from ages 10 to 17.

During the inauguration ceremony, hosted at the National History Museum in Santiago, the Chilean President Michelle Bachelet invited girls of all ages to break stereotypes and believe in their capacity to do anything. “We need more women in ICT and science,” she said. President Bachelet also visited the GMT booth, located in the astronomy area of the museum, and was welcomed by the Head of Administration in Chile, Mauricio Pilleux.

Cultural Heritage National Day 

On May 28, Chile celebrated the Cultural Heritage National Day, a yearly event in which monuments and historical buildings open their doors to the public. Places such as the government palace La Moneda, the National Congress, and the Fine Arts Museum, provide free guided tours and special activities. 

Astronomical observatories are no exception. This year the Cerro Calán National Astronomical Observatory in Santiago organized an attractive program for families and invited GMTO to participate. 

More than 1,500 people visited Cerro Calán and enjoyed tours of the historical telescopes, hands-on experiments, and learned more about the Giant Magellan Telescope at our dedicated booth. 

We thank Cerro Calán for giving us the opportunity to interact with passionate children and families to share the excitement about the giant telescope we are building.