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Team Behind Telescope Made to See the Universe’s “First Light” Sets Up Shop in Pasadena

Published on Thursday, March 31, 2016 | 5:42 am
The Pasadena GMTO Team in its new offices.

One of the largest telescopes in the history of the universe is about to be built on the grounds of the Las Campanas Observatory in Chile, over the next decade.

Many of its engineers, designers and scientists, however, will be housed right here in Pasadena.

An artist's visualization of the facility.

The Giant Magellan Telescope Organization (GMTO)Pasadena Team recently moved into the Hastings Ranch neighborhood in Northeast Pasadena. Following months of design, permitting and construction work, the new space at 456 N. Halstead Street, Pasadena, CA, will not only house technical staff, but will also maintain human resources and finance offices.

The custom office is designed to see the GMT project through to “‘First Light’ and beyond,” said Patrick McCarthy, interim president of the Giant Magellan Telescope Organization.

“Pasadena is one of the most vibrant centers of astronomy in the world,” explained McCarthy. “The early development of the Giant Magellan Telescope project first took place at Carnegie Observatories, home of the famous Mt. Wilson Observatory. It was the GMT’s home for several years until the project outgrew the space.

“Since moving out of Carnegie’s offices in 2009,” McCarthy continued, “the GMT Project has been headquartered at different locations along Lake Avenue, before we chose our new space in Hastings Ranch.”

The space is actually the team’s fourth Pasadena headquarters in ten years. The team had its first home at Carnegie Observatories on Santa Barbara Street, before moving to 831 N. Lake Avenue in 2009, then to 251 S. Lake Avenue in 2011. The team spent the first three months of 2016 in a temporary space in the Jacobs Building at 155 N. Lake Avenue, while preparation of the new space was completed.

The space is a mix of offices, open-plan workspaces, meeting rooms, and work rooms with views of the San Gabriel Mountains from the north-facing windows, all of which is “designed to optimize efficiency and work flow,” McCarthy explained.

The new space will also house the Magellan Boardroom, a conference room which will be utilized for the team’s tri-annual board meetings, as well as project reviews. Several rooms, including the boardroom, are equipped with videoconference facilities, allowing collaboration with GMTO’s Chile headquarters in Santiago.

According to the team website, the new Giant Magellan Telescope will take advantage of the power of the largest mirrors ever made – each measuring 27 feet across, the first in the next-generation of extremely large telescopes. It will be the first in a new class of Extremely Large Telescopes, all of which are capable of exploring the cosmos “with unprecedented clarity and sensitivity.”

The GMT will actually peer back in time to shortly after the Big Bang, when the first stars, galaxies, and black holes formed, using cutting-edge optics technology, and combining seven giant mirrors to achieve 10 times the infrared resolution of the legendary Hubble Space Telescope.

Unlike other planned extremely large telescopes which use over 400 smaller mirror segments, the GMT employs a unique design of seven massive mirror segments to complete its primary mirror, which is expected to give the telescope a vision like no other telescope to come before it.

Thus begins a mission to explore the origins of the chemical elements that make up Earth and its bodies, the formation of the first stars to form in the Universe, and the mysteries of dark matter and dark energy. The GMT will also search distant exoplanets for signs of life around other stars in our Milky Way galaxy.

In other words, if it’s out there, the Giant Magellan Telescope will likely find it.

The telescope will begin operations early in the next decade as the largest telescope in the world, with at least four of its final complement of seven giant mirrors.

The project is due to be completed with all seven of its mirrors by 2024.

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