Researchers at the University of Arizona are working on massive mirrors that will make it easier for telescopes to peer deep into space. The mirror being worked on by the University will be used in the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT) that’s under construction in Chile. Despite being a terrestrial telescope, thanks in part to the new mirrors, the GMT will view the heavens more clearly and see deeper into the cosmos than the Hubble Space Telescope.
Scientists will use the GMT to learn more about the vast number of galaxies scattered throughout the universe and seek out planets similar to the earth. One major goal will be to search out planets that could potentially host life. The University of Arizona Mirror Lab is currently building the seven massive mirrors to help the GMT focus the light from distant stars.
Currently, the lab is working on the sixth of seven mirrors and is arranging chunks of super pure glass in a honeycomb grid. Once the glass is placed in the grid, a lid is placed on the chamber, turning it into a massive oven able to heat and spin the glass. Centrifugal force forms a curve. That glass then cools and hardens into a nearly perfect shape for use in the telescope. The entire process takes about four months.
While building the mirror takes months, the process of grinding the mirror to a perfect curve within one-millionth of an inch takes even longer. If the mirror isn’t incredibly smooth and perfectly curved, it will impact the telescope’s ability to peer into the heavens.
While the University is working on the sixth of seven required mirrors, it may still be almost a decade before the GMT is ready to begin observations. Scientists are anticipating that day as it will allow them to learn more about exoplanets and the universe in general.