UA reaches major milestone in telescope project

Published: Jan. 14, 2012 at 9:51 PM MST|Updated: Feb. 28, 2018 at 5:26 PM MST
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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Tucson is known for many things, but our skies are definitely a highlight for astronomy enthusiasts.

Right now, researchers at the University of Arizona Steward Observatory Mirror Lab are working to build a telescope unlike anything that's been built before.

Today, a major milestone in the development of that telescope.

The Mirror Lab is located underneath the Arizona football stadium, and that's where they're building huge mirrors for this telescope.

It's an enormous project that will take years to complete, but today the people who know most about the project were extremely excited to share their progress.

"This is absolutely the front rank of what's being done in the world," Matthew Colless, the director of the Australian Astronomical Observatory and Vice Chair of the Giant Magellan Telescope Board said.

The Giant Magellan Telescope will be bigger than any other in the world, making it possible for scientists to answer questions we all have about what lies beyond.

"When they look out there, they wonder, 'Are we the only planet with life?' Are there other planets? Other life?'" Roger Angel, the director at the Steward Observatory Mirror Lab said.

Today, a milestone for the telescope that what will one day become a huge new eye on the universe. Inside this enormous, rotating furnace, temperatures over 2000 degrees are melting high quality glass.

"This is the crucial step in going from lumps of glass to a beautiful high-tech mirror," Colless said.

The telescope requires seven mirrors, and each mirror takes more than a year to make. After today, the furnace will keep spinning, for three months so the mirror can be cast into its proper saucer-shape, more than 27 feet in diameter. Bigger and better than anything before, scientists will even be able to see sharp pictures of the first stars that ever formed in the universe.

"The interesting thing about the universe is that whenever you look at it in a new way, you discover things you've never seen before. it always surprises us," Colless said.

Tools to allow for surprising discoveries from Tucson, to beyond.

Researchers still have a long way to go. They say the telescope won't be finished until 2020. It will cost a total of 700 million dollars to complete, and once it's finished, the telescope will be set up in Chile.

Copyright 2012 KOLD. All rights reserved.