UT-Austin
12:15 pm
Fri March 7, 2014

UT-Austin Approves Partnership to Build World's Largest Telescope

Update: UT-Austin has received the green light to participate in the construction of the Giant Magellan Telescope. When constructed, it will be the world's largest telescope. 

The UT System Board of Regents authorized UT-Austin to put $50 million of its research reserves toward the project, and allowed the university to raise an additional $50 million in donations. 

“Being a charter investor in this remarkable scientific tool will benefit our students, our faculty and the whole university,” UT-Austin President Bill Powers said in a statement Friday.“Not only will we be helping to answer the most basic questions about our universe, but our involvement will underscore our status as a top world university. This is the leading edge of science, and it is where Texas must be.”

The telescope is expected to cost $1.05 billion, but will be split between the founding partners, which includes Harvard University, the Korea Astronomy and Space Science Institute, the Carnegie Institution for Science, the Smithsonian Institute, Texas A&M University, the University of Arizona and the University of Chicago.

The telescope will have seven mirrors that create clearer pictures and allow astronomers to take images of undiscovered planets and determine if they are habitable.

“If we succeed, I think the discovery of a series of habitable planets would be a landmark in human history,” said David Lambert, director of the McDonald Observatory. 

Compared to the Hobby-Eberly Telescope at the McDonald Observatory in west Texas, the Giant Magellan Telescope will have six times the light-gathering power to produce images 10 times sharper.

The GMT is expected to make UT-Austin's astronomy departments one of the best in the nation and help the university on its mission to become the top public research university.

Original Story (March 6): The University of Texas at Austin could become one of five universities in the country with access to a yet-to-be-built, state-of-the-art telescope.

The UT Board of Regents is scheduled to decide Friday whether to put at least $50 million toward the project. When built, the Giant Magellan Telescope will be able to see things that today’s largest telescopes cannot. With it, astronomers might be able to answer questions like, 'What exists beyond the edge of the universe?' or 'What is the closest Earth-like planet?'

“There’s about a thousand institutions at least that would enjoy being part of this partnership and, like, ten are invited," says Carolyn Porter with UT’s astronomy department.

The telescope will have seven mirrors that create clearer pictures and allow astronomers to see farther into space than ever before.

“We will be able to create images to share around the world that we anticipate will have as much as a profound impact on inhabitants of planet Earth as images that first came out of the Hubble telescope. That was quite revolutionary," Porter says.

The telescope will be in a remote part of Chile, at the foothills of the Andes mountains. It’s considered the darkest and driest place in the world—perfect conditions for stargazing, or in this case, discovering new information about the universe.

When the telescope is built, it will be almost as tall as the UT tower.

Having access to this telescope is a big deal for UT's Astronomy department. Not only will it make it one of the best-equipped astronomy department’s in the country, it will allow UT to attract higher quality teachers and students. 

If the Board of Regents gives UT-Austin the go ahead tomorrow, it will also allow the university to raise additional money through private donations.

Partners expect the telescope to be ready to use by 2022.

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