Press and News
 

April 2018

Welcome to the April newsletter

It has been a busy start to the year and in particular we were excited to see the fifth primary mirror segment come out of the furnace at the Richard F. Caris Mirror Lab at the University of Arizona. You can see some great behind-the-scenes pictures of the progress of our fifth mirror in this newsletter.

In other news, you will meet an important addition to the team building the GMT – Ricardo Glade from WSP, GMTO’s construction management company. You can also find out how the University of Texas at Austin will be helping GMT see into the dusty clouds where stars and planets are born.

GMT has also been busy talking to, and listening to, the community – both at January’s American Astronomical Society meeting and in Chile. Read about these events below.

Finally, registration has opened for GMTO’s sixth annual Community Science Meeting. This year’s topic, the birth and death of stars, promises to generate fascinating discussion. If this is your field of astronomy we hope you can join us.

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

– Dr. Patrick McCarthy

WSP selected as GMTO’s Construction Management company

In January, GMTO announced the selection of WSP, a global engineering and professional services consultancy, to manage the construction activities on the GMT site in Chile. Construction work on the site involves many interdependent activities that need to be coordinated so that work is carried out efficiently and safely. WSP will draw upon its global organization and capabilities which includes Poch, a 730-employee engineering and environmental consulting company based in Chile that was acquired by WSP in July 2017.

A key person in this activity is Ricardo Glade of WSP. Ricardo is a project manager and engineer with many years of experience in the region. For this newsletter, Ricardo answered a few questions about his work on this project.

What is your background and how did you come to work for WSP?

I am a Chilean engineer with a degree in Structural Engineering from the University of Chile and a Professional Engineer (Civil) license in California. I worked in the US for some time, designing high rise buildings and other structures in Boston and Southern California. Upon my return to Chile many years ago, I became involved in upper management (project management, engineering management, office management) and I have been a General Manager/Country Manager in Chile and Peru for large international engineering companies such as Fluor, Amec, and Tractebel Engineering, where I was involved in the development of mining, energy and infrastructure projects. I came to work for WSP through my connection with Poch by WSP, a very successful and well known Chilean engineering company with almost 30 years of experience in Chile and the region. I was hired by Poch to lead big projects and when the GMTO opportunity came along I was included in the proposal preparation team that led to the successful project award.

Ricardo Glade

Ricardo Glade at the Magellan Baade 6.5 meter telescope.

What has been your most rewarding success/accomplishment to-date?

I have been very lucky in my professional life to have participated in a variety of interesting projects and to have the opportunity to lead engineering companies and see them grow in different countries and cultures. I feel happy when I look back and remember all the excellent experiences I have been through and the knowledge I have collected from all the people I have worked with. The GMTO project, which stands all by itself because of its amazing characteristics, might very well be at the top of my list.

What is your role with GMTO?

WSP has been chosen by GMTO to provide the Construction Management Services for the project and I am the Construction Manager, the leader of our team of professionals working on this exciting project. As such, I am responsible for making sure the facilities are built within the safety and quality standards set by GMTO for this project, on schedule and on budget. While I am normally based in Santiago, I am now full time at the site along with most of the WSP project team.

What are some of the daily activities you undertake?

Client interaction is one of the main activities I undertake. Additionally, and as the project progresses, WSP will be responsible for the close supervision of the different contractors working on the project. Planning, scheduling, and coordinating are other important tasks in our everyday work.

Describe your favorite experience with GMTO so far

I think my favorite experience has been the interaction with the GMTO people, both in Chile and Pasadena. We came to GMTO’s Santiago office in late December and we were made very welcome there. My visit to the Pasadena HQ was also a great experience and I really appreciate the way I and WSP have been brought into the project and group. We at WSP (and I in particular) are very excited about being part of this world-class project.

Lifting the veil on star formation: A University of Texas instrument for the GMT

The Milky Way galaxy contains roughly 100 billion stars and new stars are being born at the rate of about one per year. Star formation is one of the most common events in the universe – roughly 5000 stars are born each second throughout the cosmos. Despite this being such a ubiquitous phenomenon, star formation is not well understood. Building a complete physical theory of star and planet formation is one of the major outstanding challenges in astrophysics.

Part of the difficulty stems from the fact that the birth of stars happens behind a curtain – the dense clouds of molecular gas and interstellar dust grains that play a key role in star formation also absorb light and obscure our view of the process. Infrared radiation – light with wavelengths between roughly 1 and 100 microns – penetrates the dust shrouding young stars and gives us a view of the star formation process and newly formed stars within their dusty cocoons.

NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope image of a star-forming region

NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope image of a star-forming region. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech. More information from NASA.

University of Texas at Austin (UT) professor of astronomy and Vice President for Research Dan Jaffe is a world leading expert in both the study of young stars and the infrared instrumentation needed to observe them. Prof. Jaffe is engineering a state-of-the-art infrared spectrograph – the GMT Near-IR Spectrograph (GMTNIRS) – that builds on his deep experience with infrared instruments for ground- and space-based telescopes.

GMTNIRS will not only allow astronomers to peer into stellar nurseries, it will also be used to probe the atmospheres of planets as they pass in front of their parent stars. Atmospheric gases, such as water, carbon monoxide, methane and oxygen each leave a distinct imprint on the spectrum of the starlight that has passed through the atmosphere. Some of these molecules, particularly oxygen and methane, can be indicators of biochemical processes and hence can reveal the presence of life on other planets.

GMTNIRS is really a combination of five spectrographs – each of which samples a region of the spectrum in which the Earth’s atmosphere is transparent (the atmosphere is opaque to parts of the infrared region of the spectrum). The spectrographs sample light with wavelengths from 1 to 5 microns. Each spectrograph disperses the light into its constituent colors to reveal the fingerprints of atoms and molecules in the atmospheres of young stars.

Model of the GMTNIRS Spectrograph

Model of the GMTNIRS Spectrograph..

Prof. Jaffe and his team at UT and in Korea have recently fielded a smaller instrument, IGRINS, that is in many respects a prototype of the GMTNIRS instrument. Both spectrographs use a novel technology to disperse the light into its constituent colors. Optical gratings – polished surfaces with closely spaced grooves – use the interference of light waves to spread the light into a spectrum. The gratings in Prof. Jaffe’s instruments are not made from glass, but rather from silicon – the same material from which transistors and computer chips are made. Engineers at the UT silicon grating laboratory use lithographic techniques similar to those used in Silicon Valley to make computer chips. The optical design of GMTNIRS uses these gratings in immersion – the light passes through the silicon crystal before encountering the grating surface and being reflected into the camera optics and the detectors. The immersion amplifies the power of the gratings to spread the light into its constituent colors.

The GMTNIRS spectrograph will be 40 times more efficient than the most powerful infrared spectrographs in use today. Part of this gain comes from the great collecting area of the GMT; part comes from the use of five spectrographs that sample the light from young stars at the same time – rather than one section at a time as is the case for most of today’s infrared spectrographs.

Prof. Jaffe and his team in Austin and Korea are a great example of world class research scientists with deep technical skills that are an essential ingredient for the success of science projects like the GMT.

GMT’s 5th Mirror revealed

The fifth primary mirror for the GMT was cast at the Richard F. Caris Mirror Lab at the University of Arizona in November of last year. In early February, after three months of careful cooling, the glass had finished annealing and the furnace was opened. After cleaning and inspection, the mirror was lifted off the furnace floor in early April. Damien Jemison, GMTO’s Creative Art Director, was there to capture footage of these processes.

The furnace for GMT’s 5th mirror, prior to opening

The furnace for GMT’s 5th mirror, prior to opening.

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The furnace lid is lifted with a crane. This video shows the process at 4x speed.

 

The surface of the mirror is revealed

The surface of the mirror is revealed.

One portion of the furnace wall is removed to allow the mirror lab team access to the mirror surface

One portion of the furnace wall is removed to allow the mirror lab team access to the mirror surface.

The surface of the mirror is then cleaned to remove the dust generated by the expansion and contraction of the Inconel bands that encircle the furnace. First it is vacuumed, then mopped.

The surface of the mirror is then cleaned to remove the dust generated by the expansion and contraction of the Inconel bands that encircle the furnace. First it is vacuumed, then mopped.

A few weeks later, the furnace walls had been removed and the mirror was revealed. On the right of this picture a small part of the external mold material is visible

A few weeks later, the furnace walls are removed and the mirror is revealed. On the right of this picture, a small part of the external mold material is visible.

A lifting fixture is bonded to the front surface of the mirror.

A lifting fixture is bonded to the front surface of the mirror.

The mirror is lifted from the furnace floor using a crane attached to the lifting fixture.

The mirror is lifted from the furnace floor using a crane attached to the lifting fixture.

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This video shows mirror being lifted from the furnace floor into the turning ring. Speed: 6x-12x.

 

The mirror is then secured into the turning ring, ready to be moved onto its side.

The mirror is then secured into the turning ring, ready to be moved onto its side.

With the mirror on its side, it is now ready for the bolts and the refractory material to be cleaned out.

With the mirror on its side, it is now ready for the bolts and the refractory material to be cleaned out.

For more images of this process, check out our website gallery.

Registration Opens for 6th Annual GMT Community Science Meeting

2018 Community Science Meeting

 

The Sixth Annual GMT Community Science Meeting, sponsored by the Giant Magellan Telescope Organization, will be held from September 13-15, 2018 in Honolulu, Hawaii.

While stars spend most of their lives as stable, fusion-powered objects, stellar birth and death involve some of the most dramatic and diverse physical processes known to astrophysicists. Stellar beginnings are shrouded in dust and difficult to observe, and the next generation of large telescopes will offer transformative opportunities to understand this first chapter of the star formation story. Stellar death is often explosive, and new data on transient objects offers great opportunities for advancing our understanding of the last chapter of the stellar story. This conference brings together experts in the fields of star formation and stellar disruptions, eruptions and explosions. The conference will focus on key open questions that can be solved in the upcoming era of extremely large telescopes.

Registration is now open: check gmtconference.org for more details.

Astronomy with All Senses – Outreach in Chile

GMTO is engaged in an education program in Chile to inspire appreciation and knowledge of astronomy through all the senses, with a particular focus on accessibility to blind and visually impaired people. Astronomy with All Senses is a project developed by Parque Explora and Planetario Medellín (Colombia) and funded by the International Astronomical Union. Fully contained in a traveler’s backpack, the project materials consist of carefully designed tactile materials which enable access to astronomy for people of all ages, backgrounds and capabilities.

One item in the backpack is a 30cm diameter model of the Moon which provides an impressive tactile experience of the Moon’s morphology. The surface includes exaggerated reproductions of the Sea of Serenity, Sea of Tranquility, Sea of Fertility, Sea of Crises and Sea of the Rains, among others. In addition, a separate 3D print of the Copernicus Crater reveals fine details of this enormous impact on the surface of the Moon.

One of the three existing backpacks was donated to GMTO by Parque Explora and Medellín Planetario for the development of a mobile astronomy laboratory.

Participants in Chile’s Day of Astronomy enjoying the tactile Moon activity. Image courtesy of Conicyt.

Participants in Chile’s Day of Astronomy enjoying the tactile Moon activity. Image courtesy of CONICYT.

GMTO’s Astronomy with all Senses exhibit was recognized as the inclusion event for the celebration of the Chile’s Day of Astronomy in March. At the Santiago Metro’s Quinta Normal station more than 100 people were given individual tours through the solar system, the stars and the Moon using their hands. This multi-sensory experience also included the smell of a comet through a postcard and the taste of an asteroid collision with pop rocks. Students from Santa Lucía school for blind and visually impaired children enjoyed the exhibit alongside members of the public who participated with blindfolds.

GMT at the 231st American Astronomical Society meeting

GMT Open House at 231st AAS meeting

Alycia Weinberger at the GMT Open House at the 231st AAS.

GMTO participated in the 231st American Astronomical Society meeting in January, as a sponsor and as an exhibitor. GMTO also held an Open House attended by over 100 people. At the Open House, GMTO Board members Charles Alcock (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics) and Taft Armandroff (The University of Texas at Austin) gave a brief update on the status of the GMTO organization, Carnegie Institution for Science astronomer Alycia Weinberger reviewed the progress towards the release of the 2018 Science Book, and Patrick McCarthy briefed everyone on the current project status.