George P. Mitchell, founder of Mitchell Energy & Development Corp. and The Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation, has committed an unprecedented $25-million gift to the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT) project.
Half of the gift, $12.5 million, has been donated to the Carnegie Institution for Science and half to Texas A&M University, Mitchell’s alma mater. Carnegie and Texas A&M are two of the GMT’s 10 partners.* The gift will help support the GMT during the next five years.
“George Mitchell has been a driving force behind this project from the beginning,” commented Wendy Freedman, chair of the board of directors for the Giant Magellan Telescope Organization (GMTO) and director of the Carnegie Observatories. “His generosity, vision, and dedication to the project will help define the future of astronomy.”
The GMT features an innovative design of seven 8.4 meter, or 27-foot, diameter primary mirrors arranged in a hexagon. The seven mirrors, six of which are off-axis, will produce a single telescope 24.5 meters or 80 feet in diameter. The mirrors are under development at the Steward Observatory Mirror Laboratory (SOML) at the University of Arizona, another GMT partner. The first off-axis mirror is in the final stages of polishing and is expected to be completed by the end of the year.
The GMT will open a new window to the universe. It is set to begin science operations at Carnegie’s Las Campanas Observatory in the Atacama Desert in northern Chile in 2019. Its resolving power will be far larger than any other telescope ever built and will allow astronomers to answer the most pressing questions of the day including the nature of dark matter and dark energy, black holes, planets orbiting other stars in our galaxy, and the evolution stars and galaxies in the earliest phases of the universe.
“This is an extraordinary time for astronomy given the many mysteries, including dark energy and dark matter, that we do not understand,” remarked Carnegie president Richard Meserve. “George Mitchell’s exceptional generosity will help us to solve them.”
“This gift not only brings the dream of the Giant Magellan Telescope much closer to becoming reality, but also helps propel Texas A&M and the entire state of Texas to the forefront in the important fields of physics and astronomy,” said Texas A&M president R. Bowen Loftin.
Thus far, $255.5 million has been raised to support the GMT, a $700-million project. The GMT will have 10 times the resolution of the Hubble Space Telescope and will operate in the new era of the James Webb Space Telescope, Hubble’s successor.
*The Giant Magellan Telescope Organization is a nonprofit corporation based in Pasadena, California. The GMTO manages the GMT Project on behalf of its international partners. Those partners include Astronomy Australia Ltd., the Australian National University, 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 Texas at Austin, and the University of Chicago. For more information, visit www.gmto.org.
The Carnegie Institution for Science (carnegieScience.edu) has been a pioneering force in basic scientific research since 1902. It is a private, nonprofit organization with six research departments throughout the U.S. Carnegie scientists are leaders in plant biology, developmental biology, astronomy, materials science, global ecology, and Earth and planetary science.
As one of the world’s leading research institutions, Texas A&M University (http://www.tamu.edu) is in the vanguard in making significant contributions to the storehouse of knowledge, including that of science and technology. Research conducted at Texas A&M represents an annual investment of more than $630 million, which ranks third nationally for universities without a medical school, and underwrites approximately 3,500 sponsored projects. That research creates new knowledge that provides basic, fundamental and applied contributions resulting in many cases in economic benefits to the state, nation, and world. Source: AAS