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Australia will help build the world's largest telescope which could detect other life within the universe

Photo: gmto.org

Australia will be a major player in an international collaboration to construct the world’s largest telescope, the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT).

The first generation telescope will boost scientific foray in locating habitable planets and other life in our galactic neighbourhood.

AAL’s representative on the GMT Science Advisory Committee, Professor Chris Tinney said: “The GMT will play a leading role in the international race to identify planets orbiting stars near the sun that could host life and potentially reveal the signatures of biological processes.”

Earlier this year, Christopher Impey an astronomer at the University of Arizona told Business Insider that “we’re probably going to be able to detect life on another planet in the next decade or so.”

He says that this would only be achieved “by exploring exoplanets that we’re discovering in large numbers” with 45 exoplanets in our galaxy currently thought to be potentially habitable.

The $US1billion project will draw on the expertise of Australian astronomers, engineers and technologists from the Australian National University and Astronomy Australia Limited ― two of 11 international partners ― who will receive a 10% share in the venture.

According to ANU, the GMT will produce astronomical images up to 10 times sharper than that of the Hubble space telescope and help scientists study the evolution of galaxies and planetary systems other than our own.

“The Giant Magellan Telescope will provide astronomers and astrophysicists with the opportunity to truly transform our view of the universe and our place within it,” Director of the ANU Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics (RSAA) Professor Matthew Colless said.

Colless, who is also vice chair of the GMT Organisation Board said the tools constructed in Australia would hugely improve the telescope’s capabilities.

“We’re building two of the first set of instruments that are going to be on the telescope, and we’re also building part of the adaptive optics which is what allows the telescope to look through the atmosphere, and see nearly as sharply as the Hubble Space Telescope does from in orbit,” he
said.

“The adaptive optics system will allow us to take the blur out of the atmosphere. It uses lasers, and very rapid deformable mirrors to de-blur the atmosphere, like noise-cancelling headphones for seeing.

“And that means we can see smaller things, further away than ever before, in fact we can see things 10 times smaller and fainter than [we could] on the Hubble Space Telescope.”

Nobel laureate and astrophysicist Professor Brian Schmidt said the telescope will “herald a new era of discoveries” and “allow scientists to look back in time to shortly after the big bang”.

The giant optical telescope will be positioned on a mountaintop in Chile’s Atacama Desert, one of Earth’s driest places.

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