Category Archives: Telescopes

Giant Magellan Telescope

Giant Magellan Telescope

The Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT) is a planned telescope that will be the first in a new class of Extremely Large Telescopes. It is expected to be ten times more powerful than the Hubble Telescope, which will allow us to see further into deep space with ultra-sharp clarity. The GMT will be located in the same area as the Magellan Telescope, in Las Campanas Observatory near La Serena, Chile. This area is ideal for space watching because it is one of the least light polluted areas on Earth.

Construction for the GMT was started in November of 2015 and full completion of the telescope is expected to be around 2025. When completed, it will be the largest optical observatory in the world. The GMT will be at an altitude of 8,500 feet and it will consist of seven primary mirrors. Operation for the GMT will begin with just four mirrors in 2022, known as “first light”.

One of the reasons why it will be able to peer deeper into space it due to extra large aperture, which will much bigger than most of the telescopes in existence today.

Comparison of apertures of existing telescope primary mirrors

This powerful telescope will work by using light from the edge of the universe that will first reflect off of the seven primary mirrors, then reflect again off of the seven smaller secondary mirrors, and finally, down through the center primary mirror to the advanced Charge Coupled Device imaging cameras. In the CCD, concentrated light will be measured to determine what objects are made of and how far away they are. The telescope will also explore the origins of chemical elements that make up our planets. The GMT will search distant exoplanets for signs of life around other nearby stars in our Milky Way galaxy. This $1 billion project is US-led in partnership with Australia, Brazil, Korea, and Chile.

Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT)

In Pasadena, California, and at various locations around the world, scientists and engineers have been busy planning and designing what they hope will become the largest, most advanced, and powerful optical telescope in the world. When finished, the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) will allow astronomers to study objects in our own solar system as well as stars throughout our Milky Way and its nearby galaxies. The TMT will also be able to observe forming galaxies at the very edge of the observable Universe, close to the beginning of time.

The TMT will feature one of the largest mirrors of any telescope. Larger than the James Web Telescope currently under construction. Even though technology to build a mirror bigger than 8.4 meters doesn’t exist, scientists are developing a mirror for the TMT consisting of 492 smaller mirrors that together will measure at 30 meters, almost 100 feet. The diameter of the dome will be 217 feet with a total dome height of 180 feet, as tall as an eighteen story building. The TMT will also use an array of scientific instruments including a wide field optical spectrometer, infrared imaging spectrometer, infrared multi-object spectrometer, as well as six other instruments that are currently being developed.

The TMT was planned to be built atop the mountain Mauna Kea in Hawaii, making it the highest altitude telescope. Unfortunately, the project was not met without controversy. Protests and demonstrations sparked against building the TMT. Mauna Kea is thought of as a sacred mountain to native Hawaiians. On December 2nd of 2015 construction was halted as the Supreme Court of Hawaii invalidated the TMT’s building permit citing that Due Process was not allowed. Hopefully, one day the project will continue, either in Hawaii or another location. The TMT would not only give a huge boost to a state’s economy but also provide many jobs to the community.

The James Webb Telescope – A Look Into the Big Bang

James Well Telescope
Inside a massive clean room at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland the James Webb Space Telescope Team prepared for the first flight mirror’s installation onto the telescope structure. Credits: NASA/Chris Gunn

The James Webb Space Telescope will be the next successor to the famous Hubble Space Telescope. Scheduled for launch in 2018 on the Ariane 5 rocket, this technological giant, the size of a tennis court, will orbit one million miles from earth and it is hoped that we will be able to see objects as back into time as the big bang. Using infrared light, we are able to see the furthest objects in the universe.

What Will it Look For?

Besides possible learning the secret of the big bang, the Web Space Telescope will look for and analyze supernovae, black holes, baby galaxies and planets that are capable of supporting life.

How is the Telescope Constructed?

This amazing high tech optical device consists of hexagonal shaped mirror segments that measure over 4.2 feet across and weighs approximately 88 pounds. After being pieced together, there will be 18 primary segments that will work in symmetry together to produce one large 21.3-foot mirror.

The mirrors are made of ultra lightweight beryllium, which was chosen due to its thermal and mechanical properties at cryogenic temperatures. Each segment also has a thin gold coating chosen for its ability to reflect infrared light, but the largest feature is the five layer sunshield that dissipates the heat from the sun more than a million times. This shield will be about 80 feet long and 30 feet wide. One can imagine the size of this immense device once completely assembled.

“The James Webb Space Telescope will be the premier astronomical observatory of the next decade,” said John Grunsfeld, astronaut and associate administrator of the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “This first-mirror installation milestone symbolizes all the new and specialized technology that was developed to enable the observatory to study the first stars and galaxies, examine the formation stellar systems and planetary formation, provide answers to the evolution of our own solar system, and make the next big steps in the search for life beyond Earth on exoplanets.”

Amazingly, the mirrors will fold in order to fit into the spacecraft and then unfold when ejected into outer space.

“After a tremendous amount of work by an incredibly dedicated team across the country, it is very exciting to start the primary mirror segment installation process” said Lee Feinberg, James Webb Space Telescope optical telescope element manager at Goddard. “This starts the final assembly phase of the telescope.”

Bill Ochs, James Webb Space Telescope project manager said “There have many significant achievements for Webb over the past year, but the installation of the first flight mirror is special. This installation not only represents another step towards the magnificent discoveries to come from Webb, but also the culmination of many years of effort by an outstanding dedicated team of engineers and scientists.”

You can actually watch the construction of the Webb Telescope at the Goddard Space Center, via a live cam that can be viewed here:


Kepler 452B – A New Earth

For decades, scientists and astronomers have been working on the possibility of the existence of other habitable planets other than earth, and NASA has been playing an active role in this research. Although NASA has found many planets in the habitable zone, they were much bigger than our planet.

Kepler Space Observatory

NASA launched a deep space observatory with instructions to discover these Earth-like planets orbiting other suns in the Milky Way Galaxy. Named after the Renaissance astronomer Johannes Kepler, the Kepler Space Telescope found a planet similar to Earth, within the habitable zone. Though NASA can’t say for sure whether the planet is rocky like ours or has water and air, it’s the closest match yet found.

What We Know About The New Planet?

Kelper Exoplanet System

This newly discovered planet, termed by many as ‘Earth’s twin’ or ‘Earth’s cousin’, is named by the scientists as ‘Kepler 452b’. It is around 1,400 light years away from earth in the constellation ‘Cygnus’, and is said to be slightly larger than our Earth. The planet revolves around a sun-like star, which is about 20% brighter and 10% bigger than our own sun. The time that Kepler 452b takes to complete its orbit is 385 days, just a tad longer than the time which Earth takes to complete its orbit around our sun. The gravitational force on the planet is thought to be double than it is on Earth.

The planet’s star is told to be around six billion years old, which means that it is 1.5 billion years older than earth’s sun. So far, it is the smallest planet to have been discovered in the habitable zone.

Although this was not the first earth-sized planet discovered by scientists, a combination of factors makes it similar to Earth, out of all the other discovered planets. These factors, as mentioned above, include its distance from the sun, its size and the type of star it orbits.

A Scientist’s Observation on Kelper 452B

The head of NASA’s data analysis team at Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California, where Kepler 452B was discovered, Jon Jenkins said on the discovery of the planet “We can think of Kepler- 452b as an older, bigger cousin to Earth, providing an opportunity to understand and reflect upon Earth’s evolving environment. It is awe inspiring to consider that this planet has spent six billion years in the habitable zone of its star; larger than earth. That’s substantial opportunity for life to arise, should all the necessary ingredients and conditions for life exist on this planet”. 

Although scientists believe that there is a possibility of the presence of water and life on the new planet, extensive research needs to be done to confirm all such hypotheses. As scientists continue to do their work, we should be ready to get more surprising and awe-inspiring news in the future.

“Today, Earth is a little less lonely,” said Jon Jenkins, Kepler researcher astronomer. “While it’s a bit farther from its star than Earth is from the sun, its star is brighter, so the planet gets about the same amount of energy from its star as Earth does from the sun. And that sunlight would be very similar to Earth’s”

It has also been determined that the planet most likely has an atmosphere, but probably is thicker than Earth’s atmosphere and would have a lot of active volcanoes.  ”

But, because it is so far away, we are looking at what it looked like some 1,400 years ago. So even if we had the optical or digital technology to observe life, that would be life as it was 1,400 years earlier. With a little day dreaming, we could only imagine where life has gone since then.

The Kepler observatory costs $600 million to launch, but a better space observatory called the TESS will be launched in 2017 and then the James Webb Space Telescope is planned to be launched in 2018.

We can only imagine what lies ahead when finding more Earth-like planets in our galaxy.