São Paulo Joins International Mega-Telescope Project

Hello reader!

It follows an article published day (08/13) in the english website of the Agência FAPESP noting that the state of São Paulo of Brazil joins international Mega-Telescope Project.

Duda Falcão

Articles

São Paulo Joins International
Mega-Telescope Project

By Diego Freire
August 13, 2014

(Photo: GMT)
FAPESP announces that it is joining
the international consortium of the
Giant Magellan Telescope with a
US$40 million investment.
Agência FAPESP – Researchers from the state of São Paulo will now take part in operating one of the world’s leading telescopes as a result of FAPESP joining the international consortium of the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT), whose construction will begin in the Chilean Andes in 2015.

The GMT, which is expected to be fully operational by 2021, will provide a 30-fold increase in the volume of information accessible to telescopes currently in operation.

FAPESP will invest US$40 million in the project, the equivalent of 4% of the project’s total estimated cost. The investment will guarantee researchers from São Paulo 4% operating time on the GMT to conduct work, in addition to a seat on the board of directors.

According to Hernan Chaimovich, member of the Area Panel for Special Programs and coordinator of FAPESP’s Research, Innovation and Development Centers, negotiations are now underway with the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MCTI) to co-finance and expand participation to institutions throughout Brazil.

“There is genuine interest on the part of both parties to ensure that researchers from every state are able to make use of the telescope and to benefit from the possibilities of open research,” Chaimovich said.

This follows nearly three years of analyses since FAPESP initially requested participation in the consortium in October 2011 through researchers at the University of São Paulo (USP). In July 2012, the proposal was submitted for evaluation by international advisors and opinions. The responses, received in January 2013, were all positive.

In November of that same year, as part of the proposal assessments, FAPESP organized a scientific workshop regarding the project at the Foundation’s headquarters. “The purpose was to gauge the interest and potential of São Paulo’s scientific community in the field,” Chaimovich explained.

Taking part in the event were GMT directors and participants, astronomers from the state of São Paulo and researchers and managers from the National Astrophysics Laboratory of the National Observatory, the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) and the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS), among others.

There was also a workshop with representatives of industries interested in participating in the project. “Brazil has large companies that are capable of operating in several sectors of the process, from manufacturing mechanical parts for the telescope to actual construction,” Chaimovich said.

In June 2014, a FAPESP Area Panel for Special Programs gave its assent and the Foundation’s Executive Board (CTA) approved funding as well as continued negotiations with MCTI to obtain co-financing. It is also seeking an agreement with USP to establish a Center for Management of Large Astronomy Projects at the university.

New Horizons

For astrophysicist João Evangelista Steiner, a professor at the Institute of Astronomy, Geophysics and Atmospheric Sciences (IAG) at USP, the GMT will break new ground in nearly all areas of modern astronomy.

“This measure allows FAPESP to ensure that the Brazilian astronomy community will be at the forefront for many decades, and will provide tremendous opportunities for scientific discoveries and attract new talent, leading to innovation for Brazilian industry through international partnerships. It constitutes a qualitative as well as quantitative leap forward and will firmly establish Brazil’s position as a full participant in global astronomy,” he told the Agência FAPESP.

According to Steiner, the project will follow the same format as Brazilian participation in other large projects in the field also financed by FAPESP: the Gemini, in operation since 2004 with “twin” telescopes, one in the Chilean Andes and the other in Hawaii; and the Southern Observatory for Astrophysical Research (SOAR), in operation in the Andes since 2005.

“In the GMT, Brazil will leverage the experience and knowledge gained through Gemini and SOAR, which were extremely important for winning support from the international scientific community in the FAPESP project assessments,” Steiner said.

Access to a telescope the size of the GMT will be of vital importance in training the Brazilian academic community, says Steiner. “Taking part in research at world-class facilities will be a critical factor for attracting students and maintaining the highest levels of quality in scientific research in the field,” he said.

For the researcher, the scenario is already changing. “Before Brazil became part of Gemini and SOAR, graduate programs in astronomy did not attract many people. But with the prospects of receiving access to these international facilities, student interest has grown both in quantity as well as quality. Young people in general are excited by the challenge. The chance to work with a 25-m-diameter telescope like the GMT certainly offers challenges for the future,” he said.

Brazil offers 19 graduate programs in astronomy, six of which are in the state of São Paulo.

The Mega-Telescope

The GMT will be installed at the Las Campanas Observatory in the Atacama region of the Chilean Andes, near the city of Vallenar. The region is particularly well-suited to astronomical observations because of its altitude of more than 2,500 meters above sea level, the darkness of the southern hemisphere sky, and the dry climate.

The equipment will allow astronomers to investigate the formation of stars and galaxies shortly after the Big Bang, measure the masses of black holes and map the environment around them. With the GMT, it will be possible to discover and characterize planets that surround other stars in order to detect exoplanets similar to Earth and study the nature of dark matter and dark energy.

“Although the discovery of new exoplanets will grow exponentially, relevant questions about how the solar systems formed and how stable they are require large open spaces and high spatial resolution. Studies on the GMT could show, for example, if gaseous planets formed the way Earth did,” Steiner opines.

The GMT will use seven of the largest optical mirrors ever made to form a single 25.4-m-diameter telescope. Powerful lasers will be used to measure and correct distortions induced by the Earth’s atmosphere to produce images of distant celestial objects with unprecedented clarity.

The photon collection area will be 100-times larger than the Hubble space telescope and the sharpness of the infrared images will be 10-times better.

More than one hundred engineers and scientists from the offices of the GMT – located in Pasadena, California (United States) and at partner institutions – will be involved in developing the project. The first optical mirror, measuring 8.4 meters, has already been completed at the Steward Observatory Mirror Lab of the University of Arizona. Two others are being sanded and polished, and the glass of the fourth mirror should be melted in the laboratory oven in March 2015.

GMT partner institutions include Astronomy Australia Limited, 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 Chicago, the University of Texas at Austin and, with FAPESP’s entry in the consortium, USP.

In addition to the GMT, there are two other international giant telescope projects under development: the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT), coordinated by the European Southern Observatory (ESO), and the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT), administered by the California Institute of Technology and the University of California. Brazil’s participation in the E-ELT, approved by MCTI in 2010, is awaiting approval by the Brazilian Congress.

For more information about the GMT, visit www.gmto.org.


Source: English WebSite of the Agência FAPESP

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