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Giant Magellan Telescope's construction comes into focus (photos)

Early construction gets under way on the Giant Magellan Telescope, which when completed around 2019, will produce images 10 times sharper than the Hubble Space Telescope.

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James Martin

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1 of 8 Giant Magellan Telescope - GMTO Corporation

Construction begins on the Giant Magellan Telescope

With an explosion Friday morning that leveled the top of Las Campanas mountain in Chile, construction began on the $700 million Giant Magellan Telescope, which will be one of the world's largest astronomical observatories.
When the telescope is completed around 2019, its seven-mirror array, which spans 82 feet, will peer deep into space with 10 times the power of the Hubble Space Telescope.

And what do astronomers hope to see? Among other things, GMTO Corp. says the telescope it's building will provide better pictures of extrasolar planets that could prove Earth-like, along with insights on dark matter and the origin of galaxies.


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2 of 8 Giant Magellan Telescope
Beginning Friday and continuing for the next few months, more than 70 controlled blasts will remove 3 million cubic feet of rock from a mountaintop in the Chilean Andes, leaving a solid bedrock foundation for the telescope and its precision scientific instruments.
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3 of 8 Giant Magellan Telescope - GMTO Corporation

Six 8.4-meter off-axis mirrors

The massive telescope will feature six 8.4-meter off-axis mirrors around a seventh on-axis mirror. The mirrors are being produced by the University of Arizona's Steward Observatory Mirror Laboratory.
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4 of 8 Lori Stiles/University of Arizona

The first mirror

Steward Observatory Mirror Lab at the University of Arizona cast the first mirror, one of seven total, for the Giant Magellan Telescope in 2005.
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5 of 8 Giant Magellan Telescope - GMTO Corporation

200-foot-high building

The Giant Magellan Telescope will be enclosed in a 200-foot-high building at the Las Campanas Observatory in the Andes Mountains in Chile.
The site in northern Chile's Atacama desert was chosen for its weather--it boasts more than 300 clear days a year. The Atacama is known as one of the driest places on Earth, which means skies free of clouds.
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6 of 8 Giant Magellan Telescope - GMTO Corporation
An artist's illustration of the Giant Magellan Telescope, which is now under construction at the Las Campanas Observatory, 70 miles north of La Serena, Chile.
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7 of 8 Lori Stiles/University of Arizona

The first Giant Magellan Telescope 20-ton mirror blank

The University of Arizona Mirror Lab grinds the first Giant Magellan Telescope mirror to near-final shape. The Mirror Lab spin-cast the first Giant Magellan Telescope 20-ton mirror blank in July 2005.

No off-axis mirror of this size has ever been made before. An off-axis mirror focuses light at an angle away from its axis, unlike a symmetrical mirror that focuses light along its axis.

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8 of 8 Giant Magellan Telescope - GMTO Corporation

20 times sharper that the Hubble Space Telescope

This artist's illustration shows the seven mirrors, each 27.6 feet in diameter, that make up the Giant Magellan Telescope.
But wait, the Giant Magellan Telescope isn't the only new star gazer. Already in the planning stages, the European Extremely Large Telescope will sport an even bigger mirror and will be built close by.

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