Cool Science: Biggest Optical Telescope

Posted: July 20, 2009 in News, Science
Tags: , ,

When good/cool stories come out of the world of science, they need to be noted.  This is one such story; it regards the creation of the worlds’ biggest optical telescope so that even more information about the Universe can be gathered.  And yes, this sort of research is really important and has directly led to some massive improvements in technology that is used every day.

Big bang: Australia on board for telescope project

To coincide with the 40th anniversary of the first moon landing, Australia is about to once again engage in exploring space by ploughing tens of millions of dollars into the world’s biggest optical telescope.

Scientists say the telescope, to be built in Chile’s high altitude desert, will revolutionise human understanding of the universe.

The Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT) is so powerful that astronomers peering into space will be able to see back into time, to just after the Big Bang.

They also hope to find new planets and even evidence of life on other planets.

Science Minister Kim Carr says 40 years after the historic lunar landing, another giant leap forward is being taken with Australia pledging $88 million for a 10 per cent stake in the powerful optical telescope.

The stake will secure observing time for Australian astronomers.

“Just as 40 years ago we were part of the first moon landings and places like Parkes and Honeysuckle Creek and Carnarvon and Tidbinbilla, Australia once again is at the cutting edge, very much at the forefront of the global space exploration,” he said.

Professor Harvey Butcher heads the Astronomy and Astrophysics Research School at the Australian National University in Canberra which will help build part of the new telescope.

“If we can build a somewhat bigger telecope like the GMT, then we will be able to see objects all the way back to the beginning, just after the big bang,” he said.

“We know right now for example that the universe was a much more interesting place 5 to 8 billion years ago.

“There was a lot more star formation, galaxies were being ripped apart and were colliding with each other but we don’t know what the first objects were just after the big bang and we don’t know quite how galaxies started to form.

“We don’t know about black holes. When did they form and how did they evolve?”

“These are things that we will only be able to study if we can make more sensitive telescopes.”

“We think probably the first luminous objects that we will be able to detect will certainly be 12 billion years ago, probably closer to 13.

“We think the universe is just over 13 billion years old, 13.7 … we’ll be pushing right up to the time when there were no luminous objects and there wasn’t anything to see.”

The observatory in Canberra will be able to steer the telescope remotely and collect information for ground breaking local research – shedding more light on phenomena such as dark energy – the mysterious energy causing the universe to expand much faster than anyone understands.

“And we have people who are very busy finding other planets and we really would like to find earth-like planets – planets where life might have started independently of here on Earth and we can’t do that yet,” Professor Butcher said.

The Government hopes its investment will help Australia secure the world’s most powerful radio telescope – the Square Kilometre Array (SKA).

“We believe we have got the best scientific site in the world in Western Australia,” Senator Carr said.

“This is downpayment on our commitment to building international megascience with the optical telescope is properly being built in Chile – the SKA should properly be built in Australia.”


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