Carnegie Scientists Share How the Giant Magellan Will Change Astronomy

The Giant Magellan Telescope is poised to transform the field of astronomy. Carnegie Science astronomers share insights on the future of their field and how they plan to use the Giant Magellan to probe our universe once it comes online.
GMT Rendering | Giant Magellan Telescope – GMTO Corporation

From unveiling the intricate details of distant exoplanets to shedding light on the elusive nature of dark matter, the Giant Magellan Telescope promises a treasure trove of discoveries that will captivate stargazers and scientists alike. 

In anticipating the Giant Magellan’s transformative impact, we asked a selection of Carnegie Science leaders and astronomers to tell us how this next-generation telescope will change their field of research. Their enthusiasm is contagious, and their visions for exploration are bound to inspire curiosity and wonder.


How will the Giant Magellan impact astronomy? 

Eric D. Isaacs | President of Carnegie Science

"The 25-meter Giant Magellan, under construction at Carnegie Science's Las Campanas Observatory, will launch a new era of discovery in astronomy, astrophysics, and cosmology. With 10 times the area and four times the spatial resolution of the James Webb Space Telescope, the Giant Magellan will enable us to see further back in time to the first generation of stars and galaxies and will allow the resolution of exoplanets and their atmospheres. Its cutting-edge instrumentation suite, along with adaptive optics will give astrophysicists the tools to probe the nature of dark matter and dark energy and expand the search for important biosignatures like oxygen and ozone in the atmospheres of planets in our galactic neighborhood."


John Mulchaey | Deputy for Science, Observatories Director & Crawford H. Greenewalt Chair
John Mulchaey

"One of the great things about the Giant Magellan is that it is an all-purpose telescope. It will have an impact on almost all areas of astronomy and astrophysics. It's a powerful instrument that a significant fraction of the astronomers in the country will be using."



What will the Giant Magellan Telescope tell us about exoplanets? 

Johanna Teske | Earth and Planets Laboratory
Johanna Test Portrait

"The Giant Magellan is going to enable studies of exoplanets that have just not been possible before. It's not ideal for broad, demographic studies of many exoplanets, but will be excellent for drilling down into the detailed properties of a small subset, helping us measure the compositions of those planets in unprecedented detail.

This is important for understanding where we might look for habitable conditions on other worlds—maybe even finding evidence of such conditions! It will also have the power to find new planets, either those too small or in too long of orbits to have been detected with current instrumentation.

The Giant Magellan has the potential to really push our planet detection and characterization into the Earth analog regime."

Peter Gao | Earth and Planets Laboratory
Peter Gao

"The Giant Magellan has the potential to fundamentally advance our knowledge of life in the Universe by being able to detect biosignatures on Earth-like planets through high-resolution spectroscopy. That's a pretty big deal!"

What will the Giant Magellan Telescope tell us about planetary systems? 

Alycia Weinberger | Earth and Planets Laboratory
Weinberger Smiling

"As astronomers on Earth, we're stuck with the fact that the closest clusters with large numbers of young stars—and therefore with developing planetary systems—are about 450 lightyears away.

To study these systems in detail, we need to collect a lot of light and we need to see them in detail so we can distinguish what's going on in the inner system—akin to where we find our terrestrial planets—from the outer system—akin to where we find our gas giants.

Both of these requirements are met by a 20m telescope like the Giant Magellan. 

Of course, it's not good enough to look at just one or a few forming planetary systems. We know there is a huge diversity of exoplanets out there.  I want to know why certain stars form different kinds of planets. Are they very close-in? A mixture of rock and water? Nice and temperate like Earth? Large and gassy? The Giant Magellan will be able to look at a large swath of stars for this kind of detail for the first time."

What will the Giant Magellan Telescope tell us about stars and galaxies? 

Drew Newman | Observatories
Drew Newman

 "Telescopes let us look back in time and witness the early stages of galaxy formation — but only if we can observe very distant galaxies, which are small and faint. One of the Giant Magellan's revolutions will come from its ability to create extremely sharp images.

That will allow us to see inside early galaxies so that we can follow the evolution of their constituent parts over cosmic time. I think another revolution will be to reveal the hidden side of early galaxies and the enormous reservoirs of gas and dark matter that we think surround them."

Gwen Rudie | Observatories
Gwen Rudie

"The Giant Magellan will revolutionize our ability to see and study galaxies in relation to their cosmic ecosystems. The gas surrounding distant galaxies provides some of the most important insights into poorly understood processes that regulate the way in which galaxies form stars."



What will the Giant Magellan Telescope tell us about dark matter? 

Josh Simon | Observatories
Josh Simon

"Several years ago, I led the US community effort to develop plans for investigating dark matter with extremely large telescopes. There are two approaches that look promising.

One will determine the distribution of dark matter within tiny dwarf galaxies orbiting the Milky Way by measuring the motions of very faint stars with the Giant Magellan, which is one of the areas that I've specialized in. The other will search for clumps of dark matter that were too small to form galaxies with observations of gravitational lens systems.

 Both of these projects have the potential to provide major new clues to the nature of dark matter."

What will the Giant Magellan Telescope tell us about our Solar System?

Scott Sheppard | Earth and Planets Laboratory
Scott Sheppard Portrait

"Many of the Solar System objects we are finding beyond Pluto are to us currently just faint points of light since they are so far away. The giant Magellan will allow us to characterize the surface of these distant worlds for the first time to understand their compositions and to see how rich in organics and ices are in these objects in the outer Solar System. The ingredients for life might be found in abundance in these distant worlds."

Are you planning to use the Giant Magellan Telescope for your research?

What are you most excited about when the Giant Magellan Telescope comes online?