Press and News
 

March 2019

Welcome

We have had a great start to 2019 at GMTO. A significant milestone was achieved on the site in Chile with the completion of excavation of the foundations for GMT’s massive pier and enclosure. No sooner had that finished, work started on an important upgrade to the site’s water and electrical distribution systems. Read more about this work below.

We are also very pleased to announce that two of GMTO’s Founders, the Korea Astronomy and Space Science Institute (KASI) and the University of Arizona, have committed additional funding for the GMT project. We are grateful to KASI and its President, Dr. Hyung Mok Lee, for their $20M commitment, and to the University of Arizona and its President, Dr. Bobby Robbins, for their $10M cash commitment and their in-kind contribution (covering the costs at the Richard F. Caris Mirror Lab) for the casting of GMT’s sixth and seventh primary mirror segments. The generous and sustained support of our Founders allows us to keep moving forward with the construction of the Giant Magellan Telescope.

On the technical front, prototyping work for one of GMT’s critical optics positioning systems is underway. Read the story below to find out what is happening with this room-sized device and learn about the people working on it.

In this newsletter, we are pleased to profile a recent addition to the team: Dr. Cynthia Hunt, who came to us from Carnegie Observatories. Cindy is already proving to be an exceptionally valuable member of GMTO’s Development team.

In community news, GMTO attended the winter session of the American Astronomical Society meeting in Seattle and held events in partnership with the Thirty Meter Telescope and NOAO as part of the U.S. Extremely Large Telescope Program.

In addition, we are pleased to announce the opening of registration for the 7th Annual GMT Community Science Meeting – this year the topic is the “Cosmic Baryon Cycle” and its impact on galaxy evolution.

Finally, in Chile this month, GMTO took part in the country’s annual Astronomy Week, hosting a public event at a Metro station in Santiago. Travelers were able to try out the accessible astronomy tools being developed by the GMT Chile team.

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

– Dr. Patrick McCarthy
Vice President, GMTO

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Excavation of GMT pier and enclosure foundations complete

Excavation of the foundations of the Giant Magellan Telescope’s massive pier and enclosure have finished, completing the next step towards the construction of the GMT in Chile.

The excavation work took only six months, well ahead of the planned eight-month schedule. It was done without explosives and required a crew of 40 people at the peak of the effort. The contractor, Conpax, found the integrity of the rock that will support the telescope to be excellent.

“The success of the excavation is a testament to our entire construction team. Its completion is a huge step forward for the project,” said Dr. James Fanson, GMT Project Manager.

Conpax removed 4,600 cubic meters of rock and 1,000 cubic meters of soil from the summit. It required 469 dump truck loads to transfer the material to storage where the rock was sorted and stored for future use.

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View of the GMT summit, transitioning from August 2018 to March 2019. Excavation of the pier and enclosure foundations is complete. Trenching work for the upgraded water and electrical distribution systems can be seen at the top of the image.

Site construction is continuing in 2019, with work to upgrade the site utilities infrastructure. The work is expected to take about eight months and will involve trenching and installing conduit and piping to connect the summit facilities and support sites to a common water and electrical system. This contract was also competitively awarded to Conpax.

“These initial work packages provide a great opportunity for our teams to refine our processes so that we are prepared to manage the much larger scales of work we’ll encounter as the GMT observatory is constructed,” said Dr. Bruce Bigelow, GMT Site, Enclosure and Facilities Manager.

Trench excavation work for the upgraded water and electrical distribution systems.

Trench excavation work for the upgraded water and electrical distribution systems.

Workers from Conpax test the pressure in new water pipes.

Workers from Conpax test the pressure in new water pipes.

With the completion of the utilities work, the site will be ready to support the next phase of construction – pouring the concrete foundations for the telescope pier, enclosure, and summit utility building. This work is expected to begin in the first half of 2020.

Construction at the GMT site is led by GMT’s Site, Enclosure, and Facilities group, supported by M3 Engineering (Architecture and Engineering), WSP (Construction Management), and Call & Nicholas, Inc (Geotechnical Engineers).

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Decadal Survey and U.S. Extremely Large Telescope Program

The past few months have seen significant progress in our preparations for engaging with the U.S. Astronomy & Astrophysics Decadal Survey via the U.S. Extremely Large Telescope (ELT) Program. The U.S. ELT Program is the shared effort between GMT, the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) and NOAO to strengthen scientific leadership by the U.S. community-at-large through access to extremely large telescopes in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres.

In January, GMTO attended the 233rd American Astronomical Society meeting in Seattle, Washington. GMTO took part in two events at the meeting which showcased the concepts for key science projects under development by the community, and our commitment to work with TMT and AURA in creating a unified vision for U.S. federal investment in the two telescopes. Presentations from the meeting are available on the NOAO website.

Dr. Josh Simon from Carnegie Observatories presents at the Key Science Program session at AAS.

Dr. Josh Simon from Carnegie Observatories presents at the Key Science Program session at AAS.

The GMT/TMT/NOAO evening meeting at AAS was well attended by the community.

The GMT/TMT/NOAO evening meeting at AAS was well attended by the community.

In early March, as part of the U.S. ELT Program, NOAO coordinated the submission of 24 White Papers to the Decadal Survey on science that could be achieved using both TMT and GMT. When combined with the white papers written by scientists from the GMT and TMT community about individual projects, we estimate that more than 65 white papers were submitted that described science with both telescopes. More details about the Decadal Survey white paper process can be found on the National Academies website.

Several articles about the broader context of the Decadal Survey were written after the AAS meeting:

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Acquisition, Guiding and Wavefront-sensing System prototyping success

The design of many of the most complex subsystems of the Giant Magellan Telescope involves constructing and testing prototypes. One prototype that was recently tested is the Acquisition, Guiding and Wavefront-sensing System (AGWS) – a device that sits at the literal heart of the GMT. Its job is to look at 3-4 stars in the field of view of the telescope and use what it sees to control telescope pointing, mirror alignment, the primary mirror shape, phasing of the mirrors, and ground-layer adaptive optics (when combined with an adaptive secondary mirror).

Most telescopes have a system such as this – the largest telescopes in the world today have a system the size of a tabletop. The AGWS for the GMT will be room-sized.

There are several components to the AGWS: a phasing camera (featured in GMT’s August 2018 newsletter), an optics module, and several large mechanisms that must move precisely to capture the stars at the edge of the field of view.

Leading the development of the AGWS is Dr. Brian McLeod, an Astrophysicist at Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (SAO) in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Dr. McLeod has a BA in Physics from Cornell and a Ph.D. in Astronomy from the University of Arizona. He came to SAO on a postdoctoral fellowship and when it was complete, secured a staff position there – and he never left!

Dr. Brian McLeod with the AGWS linear mechanism test setup at Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory.

Dr. Brian McLeod with the AGWS linear mechanism test setup at Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory.

Brian is responsible for leading the design, construction, and continued care of instrumentation for several large telescopes such as the MMT, Magellan, and now GMT. He works with a program manager and a team of talented engineers, led by Dan Catropa, to accomplish this. Brian says, “with my training in physics and astronomy I understand what the system will need to do to enable great science. Over the years I’ve learned enough engineering on-the-job to keep my team moving in the right direction.” For his GMT work, Brian works closely with Dr. Antonin Bouchez, GMTO’s Wavefront Sensing & Controls Manager.

Brian says, “I’ve been interested in math and science for as long as I can remember. As a young kid, I was fascinated with the space program – the Apollo program was in full swing. In college, I immediately joined the astronomy club where I spent many nights helping to run public viewing events. That led to several research projects with astronomy professors. My senior year I was part of a team of students that built a camera for one of Cornell’s telescopes. That was a fortuitous opportunity, for I discovered that was what I really enjoyed. I’ve been working on instrumentation ever since.” His advice, then, to college and graduate students looking for a similar career is simple, “try to find opportunities to work on more than one type of research project or activity so you can learn what you really enjoy and are good at.”

Brian says that his favorite part of the job is doing something challenging and different every day. He told us that, “today I attended meetings with team members to review progress and to plan our next steps. I checked in on testing activities going in our lab and then at the end of the day wrote some Python code to analyze the results.”

Meanwhile, Brian shared a thought on the initialization of AGWS: “A-G-W-S is a real mouthful. The order of the letters was chosen years ago because that’s the order of events: First acquire the star, i.e. spot it in the image, then guide it to the center, then measure and correct the “wavefront”, i.e. align and shape the mirrors. It seems to be too late to change the order of the letters at GMTO, but at home, my family calls it WAGS or SWAG.”

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AGWS rotary mechanism probe under test at SAO. The device is 1.7 m long.

Under Brian’s guidance, the SAO team has taken the approach of making multiple prototypes to test and refine the AGWS system – each prototype builds on the other, adding to the confidence of the design. After the successful tests of the phasing camera in Fall 2018, the next step was work on the rotary mechanism.

In December, the SAO team completed the assembly of a full-scale prototype of the rotary mechanism in the lab in Cambridge. They tested whether the prototype could move with the stringent precision needed for the GMT – namely to 1/100th of a millimeter.

The tests were a success and complete a step towards the critical design review of the full AGWS, expected to take place in December of this year. Passing that review will lead to the start of the construction of the full AGWS system.

We wish the SAO team every success as they test and refine this vital part of the GMT.

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Profile: Cindy Hunt, Assistant Vice President for Development

Excavation at the GMT site

Dr. Cindy Hunt.

GMTO is pleased to welcome Dr. Cynthia Hunt to the fundraising team as Assistant Vice-President for Development. Cindy joins GMTO from the Carnegie Institution for Science, a GMT Founder institution.

Cindy has an AB in Physics from the University of Chicago and an MS and Ph.D. in Materials Science from the California Institute of Technology. For her thesis, she worked in cosmology, developing sub-millimeter detectors for cosmic microwave background experiments with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. To detect this oldest radiation in the universe, Cindy helped develop detectors that were cooled down to almost absolute zero and then flown on balloons around the South Pole. (One of these detectors is now on display at the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum in Washington D.C.)

After graduate school, Cindy worked for three years in the UK as an NSF Fellow before moving back to Pasadena where she consulted for small rocket propulsion companies and green energy companies, writing proposals for nearly every government agency. Later she joined Carnegie, working in the communications and development team, running the Institution’s social media, crafting outreach products, and, she says, “generally celebrating science in a multitude of ways.”

At Carnegie, Cindy became an expert in the history of the Observatories and was the curator of their significant collection of historical astronomical objects. In Cindy’s words, the collection was, “such a fantastic way to get everyone excited not only about the history of science but also to see the vision of where we need to go next to make the next big discovery about our universe.”

Now at GMTO, Cindy describes her role this way, “I want to get everyone so excited about GMT that they can’t help but support us through grants, philanthropic donations, or partnerships.” She says that “development is all about relationships: building ones we already have, starting new relationships, and stewarding the people and organizations who’ve already contributed to the project. One of the best parts of being a development officer is helping people do good in the world by making substantive contributions that reflect their passions.”

Her current big project is planning a trip to Chile for the next total solar eclipse, taking place on July 2, 2019. Cindy describes it as, “a unique trip, with the path of totality coming very close to our construction site in Chile. We want to give a very special experience to our guests as they come down and visit us at our site.”

Planning for this event entails solving complex problems that are also moving targets, through communication, good planning, and creative solutions. The job isn’t all event planning, however. Part of Cindy’s role is helping to manage and grow a prospect database, as well as developing strategic plans for approaching and building relationships with philanthropists. She also spends time working with the U.S. Extremely Large Telescope Program crafting proposals.

Cindy says that one of the best parts of her job is working with the team in Pasadena and Chile. She says, “today, for example, we had a telecon with our Chilean office to nail down the logistics for a complicated lunch before the solar eclipse. I was then on the phone with a travel vendor discussing details of our trip. I was also reviewing some research that goes into our development database. In the middle of all of that, I had a Friday morning break with my colleagues here in the office.”

When asked what advice she would give to someone thinking about pursuing the same career she says, “the most important part of the job is being able to listen. You’ll have to get at the core of what someone is passionate about, then find the right match to help them fulfill that passion.”

With that, she encourages anyone interested in contributing to the future of astronomy by supporting GMT to get in touch. She would be more than happy to listen!

Contact: cindy.hunt@gmto.org.

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GMTO Board Meeting: Sydney, Australia

Meeting in Canberra, Australia L-R: ANU Vice-Chancellor Brian Schmidt, GMTO VP for Development, Jennifer Eccles, Hon Karen Andrews MP (Minister for Industry, Science and Technology), GMTO President, Robert Shelton, and Director of the Advanced Instrumentation Technology Centre, Mount Stromlo Observatory, Anna Moore. Image by Mita Brierley.

Meeting in Canberra, Australia L-R: ANU Vice-Chancellor Brian Schmidt, GMTO VP for Development, Jennifer Eccles, Hon Karen Andrews MP (Minister for Industry, Science and Technology), GMTO President, Robert Shelton, and Director of the Advanced Instrumentation Technology Centre, Mount Stromlo Observatory, Anna Moore. Image by Mita Brierley.

GMTO Corporation and its two Australian Founder Institutions, Astronomy Australia Ltd. (AAL) and the Australian National University (ANU), hosted a triannual meeting of the GMTO Board of Directors in Sydney, Australia, from February 21-22, 2019.

Prior to the meeting, Dr. Robert Shelton, GMTO President, and Ms. Jennifer Eccles, GMTO Vice President for Development, visited Canberra to hold a series of meetings with Australian government officials at Parliament House and the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science. They were pleased to engage representatives from both major parties in advance of the 2019 Australian elections. They were joined by ANU Vice-Chancellor Dr. Brian Schmidt, Dr. Anna Moore, Director of the Advanced Instrumentation Technology Centre, Mount Stromlo Observatory, and Ms. Anne-Marie Lansdown, Deputy Chief Executive, Universities Australia. Robert Shelton and Jennifer Eccles also met with Australia’s Chief Scientist, Dr. Alan Finkel.

The Board meeting included an enjoyable evening reception with Australian astronomers at the Sydney Maritime Museum’s HMS Vampire, Darling Harbour. The Board welcomed guests from the AAO consortium including representatives from AAO-Macquarie leading the MANIFEST project for the GMT and AAO-Stromlo leading the GMTIFS project for the GMT.

We thank our Australian hosts and GMTO Board members, Ms. Anne-Marie Lansdown, Mr. Nigel Poole, and Dr. Chris Tinney. A special thank you to Dr. Mita Brierley, Senior Program Manager of AAL, for her organizing skills and constant attention to every detail that made the meetings both a success and a pleasure.

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Astronomy Week Chile

Children visiting the Astronomy with all Senses exhibit at Santiago’s Bío Bío station are shown a scale model of the Solar System by GMTO’s Representative in Chile, Miguel Roth. The Minister of Science, Andrés Couve (center) observes the process.

Children visiting the Astronomy with all Senses exhibit at Santiago’s Bío Bío station are shown a scale model of the Solar System by GMTO’s Representative in Chile, Miguel Roth. The Minister of Science, Andrés Couve (center) observes the process. Image: Valentina Rodríguez.

GMTO was invited to participate in the inclusive astronomy fair “Feeling the Universe”, the closing public event of Chile’s Week of Astronomy 2019, organized by Conicyt at the Bío Bío subway station in Santiago.

Many institutions committed to making astronomy accessible to people with different capabilities joined this celebration that included sign language, sonification of stars, tactile materials, among other tools.

One of the most visited exhibits was GMTO’s Universe with all Senses, were people of all ages could touch the Moon’s craters, the planets of the Solar System, and embrace an inflatable Sun.

Unexpectedly, just when the Minister of Science, Andrés Couve, was visiting the GMTO’s exhibit, a visually impaired boy and his mother approached to touch the planets. His mother guided his hands to the models of Jupiter and Saturn, the tactile Moon and the stars. GMTO’s Representative in Chile, Miguel Roth, explained to him the different objects he was touching. “Touching the irregular surface of the Moon goes beyond any explanation one can offer. This young boy held the Moon in his hands for the first time, and that speaks for itself.”

Minister Couve expressed to the numerous press attending the event his gratitude for the success of this experience: “We are very happy for having congregated so many inclusive activities. This morning Chile not only looked at the sky, it could also feel it!”

Media coverage included an article in Las Últimas Noticias.

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Registration Opens for 7th Annual GMT Community Science Meeting

Community Science Meeting 2019 artwork

The Cosmic Baryon Cycle: Impact on Galaxy Evolution

The Seventh Annual GMT Community Science Meeting, sponsored by GMTO Corporation, will be held from September 19-21, 2019 near San Diego, California.

The rich taxonomy of galaxies we observe today is understood to be regulated by two competing processes: accretion and feedback. Understanding the intricate exchange of matter between star-forming regions and the intergalactic space and its impact on subsequent galaxy growth remains a primary goal in astrophysics research. This meeting will bring together leading theorists and observers to discuss the latest progress in studying baryonic flows in and out of galaxies with an outlook towards key growth areas in the era of giant telescopes.

Registration is now open: check http://conference.gmto.org for more details.