Excavation begins on Giant Magellan Telescope site in Chile

UChicago is founding member of telescope, scheduled to see first light in 2024

Hard rock excavation has officially begun for the Giant Magellan Telescope, a member of the next class of giant ground-based telescopes that promises to revolutionize our view and understanding of the universe.

The 80-foot-diameter Giant Magellan Telescope, of which the University of Chicago is a founding member, will produce images that are 10 times sharper than those from the Hubble Space Telescope in the infrared region of the spectrum. Astronomers will use these images to study planets around other stars and to look back to the time when the first galaxies formed.

The telescope, expected to have a final weight of about 1,600 metric tons, will comprise seven mirrors supported by a steel telescope structure seated on a concrete pier. It will be housed inside a rotating enclosure that will measure 22 stories tall and 184 feet wide.

Work began on the telescope’s massive concrete pier and the foundations for its enclosure on its site at Las Campanas Observatory in Chile. Using a combination of hydraulic drilling and hammering, the excavation work, undertaken by the company Minería y Montajes Conpax, is expected to take about five months to complete. Excavation is a key step towards the construction of the telescope, which is expected to see first light as early as 2024.

The most challenging part of their work on the summit will be to excavate the solid rock of the mountain top to a depth of 23 feet to hold the concrete for the telescope pier. Much of this work will be done with a hydraulic rock hammer and jackhammer to ensure that the integrity of the solid bedrock below the pier is intact.

Las Campanas Observatory, located in the southern Atacama Desert of Chile and owned by the Carnegie Institution for Science, is one of the world’s premier astronomical sites, known for its clear, dark skies and stable airflow, producing exceptionally sharp images.

—This release was originally posted at the Giant Magellan Telescope website