Earthquake-proof shield for world’s best telescope cleared to proceed

The Giant Magellan Telescope’s massive enclosure has been greenlit for construction in Chile.

The 65m tall, 5,000-tonne structure will shield what will become the world’s most powerful ground-based telescope from the brutal climate and geological conditions of the Atacama Desert in Chile.

With so little light pollution and dry, clear skies, the Atacama is the perfect place to observe space beyond the Earth. But to ensure the telescope withstands regional earthquakes (there are around 6 every month), Spanish engineering firm IDOM has designed the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT) enclosure so it can withstand and continue operating through major shocks.

It will also create a microclimate around the telescope that primes the massive mirrors for nighttime observations, given severe wind and temperature fluctuations can alter the telescope’s performance.

The enclosure design process has taken 2 years and can now proceed to contracting building work. In the meantime, the delicate, time-consuming construction of the telescope is yet to reach its halfway point, with the facility due to open after 2030. The first concept for the GMT was drawn up in 2004.

“A team of ten international subject matter experts validated two years of design work by IDOM ,” says the GMT’s infrastructure, enclosure and facilities manager Bruce Bigelow.

“The final design of the enclosure is unique and an important feat of technical management, design, and engineering. We are very grateful for the committee’s professional assessment as we proceed towards construction.”

The GMT is a collaboration between 14 international institutions, including the Australian National University and Astronomy Australia. Its instruments will be used to spot Earth-like, oxygenated planets in the far reaches of space, as well as study the complex processes behind the formation of stars, plants and galaxies.

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