Press and News

December 2017

Welcome to the December newsletter

As we approach the end of 2017 we are happy to report that GMTO and its founder community are ending the year on a strong note – several strong notes to be precise! As you can read below, GMTO President Dr. Robert N. Shelton, the GMTO Board and Founders are delighted to welcome Arizona State University to the team. The School of Earth and Space Exploration at ASU conducts groundbreaking research in areas that are central to the mission of the GMT.

In early November the team at the Richard F. Caris Mirror Lab cast the 5th GMT primary mirror segment. Visitors to the casting were able to see three other GMT mirrors in various stages of production at the lab. As important as the mirrors are, we need a telescope mount to support them. This month GMTO entered into two contracts to advance the design of the telescope leading to a contract to fabricate and install the mount in Chile.

Prof. Cláudia Mendez de Oliveira, from the University of São Paulo, Brazil, joined the Board of Directors in October. She is a Professor of Astronomy and an expert in what happens when galaxies collide. You can read her profile below. In addition, Vice President for Development, Jennifer Eccles, provided her perspective on science philanthropy for Giving Tuesday – a link to her post is below.

Finally, if you are planning to attend the 231st American Astronomical Society meeting in January, please join us at our Open House on January 9, and visit us at our booth.

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

Arizona State University Joins the GMT Project

GMT rendering

On November 29, 2017, GMTO announced that Arizona State University (ASU) has joined the international consortium to build the Giant Magellan Telescope.

ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration (SESE) has established itself as a leading voice in the fields of exoplanets and space exploration. The mission of the school, to combine the strengths of science, engineering, and education to set the stage for a new era of exploration, aligns well with GMT’s mission of discovery. Faculty and students at the school are expected to work with the GMT project over the coming years; particularly Dr. Lindy Elkins-Tanton, SESE Director – a world leader in the study of terrestrial planetary formation and the principal investigator for the NASA Psyche mission to explore a metal asteroid – and Dr. Rogier Windhorst, ASU Regents Professor and interdisciplinary scientist for the James Webb Space Telescope.

“ASU’s research expertise in the study of planets will be a great asset to the GMT project going forward,” said Robert N. Shelton, President of GMTO. “The involvement of the ASU team with the James Webb Space Telescope and with the investigation of the early universe is also a critical addition to the knowledge base of the project.”

“Major scientific advances are created by new instrumentation, and to be serious about studying our universe, we need to join in these partnerships,” said Lindy Elkins-Tanton. “I’m excited that ASU has taken this leap institutionally to be a part of what’s going to be a beautiful and transformational instrument.”

Welcome aboard ASU!

Extra Resources

Telescope Mount Stage 1 contracts awarded

Detail of the telescope mount

Detail of the telescope mount.

GMTO is pleased to announce that two contracts have been awarded this week to advance the design of the Giant Magellan Telescope mount, leading to a final selection next year of the contractor to fabricate and deliver the structure.

After a process that lasted just over a year, the two companies selected are IDOM, headquartered in Bilbao, Spain, with offices in Minneapolis, and MT Mechatronics from Mainz, Germany. These two companies have extensive experience with observatory and other large-scale engineering projects.

“The telescope structure is our largest and most complex procurement, and this is the first stage of that procurement,” said Dr. James Fanson, GMTO Project Manager. “We are pleased now to have such experienced and capable firms working with us to mature the telescope design.”

The two teams will work with GMTO’s design teams to address engineering challenges and to produce firm fixed price proposals for the final design and build. When the studies are completed next year, a competitive down-select will occur for the final design, fabrication and site installation in Chile.

About the companies

IDOM is a global engineering company that develops instruments and facilities for astronomers, nuclear and particle physicists, researchers in atomic energy, medicine, and other fields. IDOM has a team of 3,000 professionals working in more than 40 offices. With projects in 125 countries on five continents, IDOM has participated in the development of components for the Gran Telescopio Canarias, the enclosure and thermal systems for the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope, and other astronomical facilities. IDOM has conducted design studies for the European Extremely Large Telescope, Thirty Meter Telescope and the Mauna Kea Spectroscopic Explorer.

MT Mechatronics provides global services as prime contractor for design, development, system integration, commissioning, training, maintenance and operations for communication and deep space antennas, radio and optical telescopes. MT Mechatronics played a large role in the development of the Atacama Large Millimeter Array for radio astronomy, the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope and the Sophia airborne infrared telescope. With over fifty years’ experience in the telescope and antenna business, MT Mechatronics has assembled a highly qualified team of engineers and experts with all relevant capabilities and experience.

GMT Casts Fifth Mirror

The final piece of glass is placed into the mold for GMT mirror 5

The final piece of glass is placed into the mold for GMT mirror 5. Image credit: Damien Jemison.

On November 4, 2017, the team at the Richard F. Caris Mirror Lab at the University of Arizona (UA) cast the fifth of seven 8.4-meter mirrors for the GMT.

Casting Process

The process of spin-casting a giant mirror at UA has many steps and over the past decades the different stages have evolved to create a perfect sequence. The architect of the spin-casting process is UA’s Regents Professor of Astronomy and Optical Sciences and Director of the Richard F. Caris Mirror Lab, Roger Angel.

The low expansion glass for the 5th mirror was produced in Japan by the Ohara Corporation in a year-long, hands-on process. It was then inspected and delivered to Tucson, AZ. At the Mirror Lab, the furnace was constructed in the first quarter of 2017 and then filled with 1681 individually shaped hexagonal cores, made from alumina-silica fiber. These cores form the inverse of the honeycomb shape used to make the 85% light-weighted glass disc that will form the mirror.

Once the glass was delivered to the University in late August 2017, it was loaded, piece by piece and by hand, into the furnace on top of the hexagonal molds. Exactly 17,481 kg of glass – each block weighing around 5 kg – was loaded in a process that took about a day. At this point the furnace lid was secured in place.

Timelapse video of the glass loading process for GMT mirror 5. Video credit: Damien Jemison.

The Mirror Lab started to increase the temperature of the furnace on October 30, 2017. The furnace began to rotate and was heated up over the course of several days to a maximum temperature of 1135 C, achieved in the very early hours of November 5, 2017. At this point, the glass began to flow and sink into the honeycomb mold. The furnace rotation speed was around 5 RPM at this temperature, which caused the flowing glass to form a parabolic surface.

View from inside the furnace for GMT mirror 5 showing the glass flowing into the mold as the temperature is increased to 1165 Celsius. Video credit: Richard F. Caris Mirror Lab, University of Arizona.

After holding the peak temperature for around 4 hours, the glass had flowed into the mold and any bubbles had been released. The furnace was then cooled over about 24 hours to around 650 C to set the shape of the glass. Further cooling to room temperature will happen over the course of a couple of months, to prevent any strains being introduced to the glass.

In early February 2018, the furnace will be opened to reveal the newly cast fifth mirror. Then, the three-year long process of polishing the mirror to perfection will begin.

Casting Events

During the evening events at the Loews Ventana Canyon Resort, the GMT icon was projected on the nearby mountain.

During the evening events at the Loews Ventana Canyon Resort, the GMT icon was projected on the nearby mountain. Image credit: Damien Jemison.

Over the weekend of November 3-5, 2017, GMTO and UA held several events in conjunction with the mirror casting, including tours of the Mirror Lab for media, VIPs and astronomers. Guests had the rare opportunity to visit the Mirror Lab at a time when several GMT mirrors were in different stages of production.

Guests were guided through the various stations in the Mirror Lab by knowledgeable docents.

Guests were guided through the various stations in the Mirror Lab by knowledgeable docents. Image credit: Damien Jemison.

On entering the Lab they viewed the furnace for mirror 5 – which was spinning and warm – before moving on to see mirror 2 on the Large Polishing Machine in the process of having its front surface polished. Guests were able to see technicians monitoring the polishing and changing over the abrasive pads.

GMT mirror 5 furnace

GMT mirror 5 furnace. Image credit: Damien Jemison.

Guests viewed GMT mirror 2 being polished

Guests viewed GMT mirror 2 being polished. Image credit: Damien Jemison.

Following this, guests were taken under the test tower (the foundations of which are isolated from the rest of the football stadium!), where multiple tests are used to check the shape of the mirror surface as the polishing progresses. Mirror 4, the central mirror, was being polished on its rear surface on the Large Optics Generator in preparation for attaching mounting hardware to support the mirror.

Acting president of KASI Dr. Wonyong Han (left) with Dr. Byeong-Gon Park (right), Manager of the Center for Large Telescopes at KASI and GMTO Board member, under the test tower with mirror 4 in the background.

Acting president of KASI Dr. Wonyong Han (left) with Dr. Byeong-Gon Park (right), Manager of the Center for Large Telescopes at KASI and GMTO Board member, under the test tower with mirror 4 in the background. Image credit: Damien Jemison.

Finally, guests saw mirror 3 in the integration hall, awaiting the availability of the front-surface polishing machine. Mirror 1 was moved out into storage in September.

We were pleased to see great media coverage from the event including coverage from WIRED and Read more articles on our Press and News page.

More images of the weekend’s event can be found on our website gallery.

New Board member: Cláudia Mendez de Oliveira

Dr. Cláudia Mendez de Oliveira

Dr. Cláudia Mendez de Oliveira.

We are pleased to welcome Cláudia Mendez de Oliveira as our newest member of the GMTO Board of Directors. Prof. Mendez de Oliveira is Professor of Astronomy at the University of São Paulo, Brazil. For this newsletter, she answered some questions about her life and career.

How did you first get into astronomy?

In my last year of high school I had an excellent physics teacher who was very inspiring and was the reason why I went into the subject. Then, in my physics undergraduate course again it was a dedicated teacher who showed me the way into astronomy. My experience confirms the importance of good teachers in the lives of students.

What has been your career path to date?

I did my undergraduate degree in physics in my hometown of Belo Horizonte in Brazil, a Masters and PhD in astronomy at the University of British Columbia, then two post-docs in France and in Chile before being hired at the University of São Paulo, Brazil, in 1995. I had two one-year sabbatical periods in Germany and I became full professor in Astronomy at the University of São Paulo in 2009.

Describe your field of research.

My field of study is galaxy evolution. I study properties of galaxies and compare them with our own Milky Way or other nearby galaxies. I am interested in colliding galaxies and I explore what happens to their structure after collision.

What has been your most rewarding career accomplishment to date?

Most of my research has been done on environmental effects of galaxies in groups and I use telescopes on the ground, as well as satellites, to understand these effects. I am the co-discoverer of several stars and groups of stars that were born outside galaxies, including the so-called orphan HII regions. This project was part of two of my PhD students’ theses and I am very proud of their accomplishments. These stars contribute to the chemical enrichment of the intergalactic medium and are born from matter that was once inside galaxies. In the past few years I have also dedicated my time to help building and managing multi-user instruments for the Brazilian astronomical community. Working with instruments has been very exciting and seeing the community benefit from the instruments that I help build has been very rewarding.

Why did you want to get involved with the GMT?

Joining GMT was a great opportunity for the Brazilian community, not only for the scientific growth it will allow, but also for the technological challenges which will help the community mature in important areas such as instrument development. I feel privileged to be part of this rewarding experience. With the GMT, a new window is now open to inspire a new generation of young astronomers and engineers in our country.

What are you most looking forward to once the GMT is completed?

I look forward to doing the cutting-edge science that will only be possible with the GMT and its instruments. Some of the exciting fields we may use the GMT for include observing the light of the first stars, researching galaxy formation and evolution, investigating the physics of black holes, solving long-standing problems involving dark matter and dark energy, and characterizing exoplanets.

GMT Open House at 231st American Astronomical Society meeting

The GMTO AAS booth in January 2017

The GMTO AAS booth in January 2017.

GMTO will be attending the 231st AAS meeting in January 2018 in Washington, DC. As well as hosting a booth in the exhibit hall, GMTO will be holding an Open House on Tuesday, January 9, from 7:30 pm to 9:00 pm in room National Harbor 13. Join us to hear an update on the project’s progress and enjoy complimentary refreshments.

Science Philanthropy

Jennifer Eccles

Jennifer Eccles.

Vice President for Development at GMTO, Jennifer Eccles, shares her thoughts on the science philanthropy landscape today.

Read the article on our blog here.