2020: Giant Magellan Telescope
With a 24.5-meter (80-foot) primary mirror, the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT), to be built in the mountains of Chile, will be able to collect more light than any existing telescope. Its primary mirror consists of six 8.4-meter mirrors arranged around a 7.7-meter central mirror. With their combined light-gathering capability, GMT will study some of the most distant objects in the universe.
GMT will look directly at planets outside our solar system for the first time. Currently, astronomers can study planets in other solar systems only indirectly by observing the way a star "wobbles" slightly when affected by a planet's gravity, or measuring the change in the chemical spectra of a star when a planet crosses it. Researchers can "subtract" the planet's spectra from the star's to draw conclusions about the planet's size and composition.
With GMT, astronomers will actually be able to see these extrasolar planets in images 10 times clearer than those from Hubble. "Once you can actually see them, you can measure a lot of interesting properties," GMT director Patrick McCarthy told Seniorhelpline, including color and even some weather patterns.
"We chose not to enter into what would be a decades-long process that might lead to federal funding and might not, but might lead to delays in the project and probably additional costs," McCarthy told PM. Instead, the program receives funding from its institutional partners, including Australian National University, Astronomy Australia Limited, the Carnegie Institution for Science, Harvard University, the Korea Astronomy and Space Science Institute, The Smithsonian Institution, Texas A&M University, the University of Arizona, the University of Chicago, and the University of Texas at Austin.
In light of the current federal budget situation, he said, "I think we're looking fairly wise."