On the University of Arizona campus, a massive rotating oven recently filled with about 20 tons of Japanese-produced glass could be the key to one day finding life in the dark depths of space.
The Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT), said to be 10 times more powerful than the Hubble Space Telescope, is making progress as vital mirror components are being made at the UA.
The Richard F. Caris Mirror Laboratory is in the process of casting the fifth primary mirror segment for the GMT.
The GMT requires seven primary mirror segments. Creating the mirror is quite the extensive process.
"After the casting is completed, which takes more than six months from starting the mold through the cooling of the glass, you then have to take several years to polish the final surface," said Buell Jannuzi, director of the Steward Observatory.
Over 35 workers are working around the clock, monitoring the numerous mirror segments, performing measurement tests.
Chile will be home to the GMT, sitting at an elevation of 8,000 feet.
It's an out-of-this-world endeavor, non-government funded, although backed with the support of several academic institutions.
"We don't know exactly what the next generation of astronomers will discover with GMT but we know it will be fantastic," said Dr. Pat McCarthy, GMT astronomer.
Becoming the world's largest optical telescope, the GMT will have the capability of witnessing the solar system in its infancy.
"Most importantly, we can look back to when the universe was less than one billion years old, looking 13 billion years back into time to see the first stars and galaxies when they formed," McCarthy said.
Perhaps there's a planet somewhere in the universe, one that's inhabited, and the GMT will be the first to see it.
"It's a very transformative exciting capability. Not guaranteed that we'll be able to detect signs of life but it'll be our first shot," Jannuzi said.
One primary mirror component for the GMT is in a hangar in Tucson while the rest are in the process of being created.
The goal is to start using the GMT with four primary mirror segments by 2023.
Full operation of the Giant Magellan Telescope is anticipated for 2025.