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U of A At Work Grinding Mirrors For World's Largest Telescope

Astronomers at the University of Arizona are celebrating. The State Board of Regents has approved the university’s contract to make mirrors for the world’s largest telescope.  

It’s called “The Giant Magellan Telescope.” Wendy Freedman is a leader with the project. In a recent speech she described how powerful the telescope will be when it’s finished in 2021 using a dime as a prop.

“If you were to go to Las Vegas holding that dime we could turn the GMT to your dime and we could resolve what’s on the face of that dime. it’s pretty spectacular,” Freedman said.

Buell Jannuzi is director of U of A’s Department of Astronomy and Steward Observatory. He said the Magellan will improve images from space that now come out fuzzy.

If you’ve ever looked along a hot Arizona highway and you see the distant image of a car along the highway being distorted by the turbulence of hot air above the road that happens whenever we look from the ground out into space” Jannuzi said.

The project has been in the planning stages for more than a decade and construction is underway on a mountain top in Chile. Jannuzi said that’s where dark skies allow the best views of the universe.    

"And this will allow us to have the ability to study not only the earliest galaxies in the history of the universe but also look for habital planets around nearby stars,” Jannuzi said.

He means the Magellan is looking for signs of life elsewhere in space.  U of A is grinding the mirrors for the telescope right now.

“The mirrors can take three to five years each to make. Right now we’ve completely finished one, we’re working on the second and third and we’re going to cast the fourth next year. We anticipate being done with all eight in 2022” Jannuzi said.

There also are a few other universities involved in the project, including research labs in Korea and Australia. 

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KJZZ Senior Field Correspondent Steve Shadley is no stranger to the issues shaping Arizona.