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Science AMA Series: I’m Dr. Robert N. Shelton, president of the Giant Magellan Telescope Organization (GMTO). I’m here with my colleague Dr. Patrick McCarthy, director of GMTO and eminent astrophysicist, to talk about what it takes to build the world’s...

Reddit science discussions - Fri, 07/21/2017 - 14:14

Hi Redditors, we are Robert N. Shelton and Patrick McCarthy, and we’re here to talk about what it takes to build the world’s largest telescope with all of you today. The Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT) will image planets around other stars (including our nearest neighbor Proxima b), probe their atmospheres for signs of biological activity, and look back to the epoch of “first light” - the period shortly after the Big Bang when the first stars, galaxies and black holes formed. To get started, please allow us to introduce ourselves.

Robert is the president of Giant Magellan Telescope Organization (GMTO). He is leading the ambitious group behind the GMT as they take the telescope from a bold vision to a world leading research facility. Before joining GMTO, Robert was the president of Research Corporation for Science Advancement, America’s first foundation dedicated solely to funding science. In his earlier days, he also served as the executive director of the Arizona Sports Foundation, the 19th president of the University of Arizona, and many other leadership positions at well-known universities. Robert has a Ph.D. in physics and is an experimental condensed-matter physicist focusing on collective electron effects in novel materials.

Patrick is the director of GMTO and leads the team of scientists and engineers building the GMT. An accomplished astronomer, Patrick is best known for his work observing the formation of the earliest galaxies and his study of distant low frequency cosmic radio sources. After completing his Ph.D. at the University of California at Berkeley, Patrick joined the Carnegie Observatories as a Carnegie Fellow and a Hubble Fellow, and then became a faculty member at Carnegie. He was part of the team that developed the last, and most powerful, instrument to be deployed on the Hubble Space Telescope, the Wide Field Camera 3.

The GMT is slated to be the first in a new class of giant ground-based telescope, capable of producing images with 10 times the clarity of those captured by the Hubble Space Telescope. Powered by the joined forces from a global consortium of top universities and institutions, the GMT aims to discover not only the answer to the question “are we alone?” but also to answer questions we don’t yet know to ask.

As you may know, big science projects like the GMT face a range of challenges that come in many flavors. Just as Rome wasn’t built in a day, it will take a lot to build the world’s largest telescope, and we are here to share with you what we have learned so far. We'll be back later to answer your questions, Ask us anything!

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