One of the problems with planets in other star systems is that they don’t just walk up to you and tell you their life stories. But a mammoth telescope that’s being developed now should help with the introductions. When it’s completed in the next decade, it will allow astronomers to actually see planets around nearby stars. They won’t see any details, only points of light near the stars. But the view will be good enough to learn if the planets have atmospheres, and whether the atmospheres show any evidence of life.
GMT — the Giant Magellan Telescope — will be built in in the Andes Mountains of Chile. It’s being developed by a consortium that includes the University of Texas at Austin. When it’s completed in the next decade, its main mirror will span 80 feet — more than twice the size of anything in operation today.
That mirror will collect several times more light than any current telescope, allowing it to view objects that are fainter and farther away. And it’ll see them more clearly than even Hubble Space Telescope.
In addition to studying exoplanets, astronomers will use GMT to look for the first stars in the universe. The stars flared to life soon after the Big Bang. They probably were quite heavy, so they would have burned out and exploded in a hurry. They seeded the universe with the first heavy elements — the elements that make up planets and people. And they triggered the birth of more stars — lighting up the universe.
Script by Damond Benningfield