We live in the golden age of telescopes, and the coming years promise strong emotions for astronomers and the hobby. The James Webb space observatory will accelerate our knowledge of the cosmos, although it has delays: it will be launched in May 2020, almost 365 days later than expected. Three years later – if the plans are fulfilled – the Magellanic Giant Telescope (TGM) will debut, so powerful that, despite being on the planet and not in orbit, you will obtain images with a resolution ten times greater than that of the old Hubble, that has given so much to science since it began to fly on Earth, in 1990.
The TGM will be the largest optical telescope in history, thanks to its mirror composed of seven segments that together add up to 24.5 meters in diameter, and will also capture certain infrared wavelengths. Its ambitions do not detract from its size: when it works one hundred percent-year 2025, it will help scientists analyze the atmospheres of exoplanets, something key in the search for extraterrestrial life; it will take us to contemplate stars and galaxies in formation and the early universe; will give clues about how the planets arise; and it is expected to shed light on two of the great enigmas of astrophysics: to know what the demons are dark energy and dark matter, which make up 95% of the cosmos.
It will do all this from the Las Campanas Observatory, located in the mountains of the Atacama Desert, in Chile. This desolate and hostile region to life is an astronomical paradise. The extreme dryness of its air, the non-existent light pollution and the climate – there are more than three hundred nights a year considered optimal for observation – make it a perfect celestial viewpoint. That is why it has been chosen by the consortium of universities and scientific institutions of the United States, South Korea, Australia and Brazil that the TGM finances, a star member of the new generation of giant terrestrial telescopes that will revolutionize what we know of the universe.
The TGM in figures
- Each of the seven segments of your mirror is 8.4 meters in diameter. Together, they will form a mirror of 24.5 meters in diameter with an area of 368 m2.
- The outer segments of the mirror weigh 16.5 tons, and the central one, 15. The manufacture of each one requires 20 tons of glass. Including spare parts, about 160 tons of this material will be used.
- It will rise to 2,515 meters above sea level. The building that will contain it will reach 63 meters in height, the equivalent of a 22-story building.
- Moving the telescope to focus other regions of the sky means moving 1,100 tons of weight.
- It is expected to come into operation in 2023 and to be fully operational by the year 2025. The cost of the project is about 1,000 million dollars (just over 800 million euros at the current rate).