SETI Talks: Birth of the New Giant Telescopes

Public talks

Tags: SETI Talks, Astronomy

Time: Wednesday, Jan 20, 2021 -

Location: Online

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The Arecibo Telescope may have tragically collapsed last year, but it doesn’t mean the end of the era of giants in astronomy. Giant ground-based telescopes currently being built will get their first light this decade. The Extremely Large Telescope (ELT), the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) and the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT) are revolutionary telescopes that will transform humanity’s view and understanding of the universe. They will provide new observational opportunities in nearly every field of astronomy and astrophysics.  These new instruments will observe in wavelengths ranging from the near-ultraviolet to the mid-infrared, allowing astronomers to address fundamental questions ranging from understanding star and planet formation to unraveling the history of galaxies and the development of large-scale structures in the universe.

We invited two astronomers whose careers are strongly related to two of these telescopes to discuss their potential and the status of these projects. Rebecca Bernstein is the Chief Scientist for GMT, a next-generation extremely large telescope with seven segmented mirrors that will be 25.4 meters in diameter, making its resolving power more than ten times that of the Hubble Space Telescope. Christophe Dumas is the Observatory Scientist and Head of Operations at the TMT. With its 30 m prime mirror diameter, TMT will be three times as wide, with nine times more area, than the largest currently existing visible-light telescope in the world. Both giant telescope that will allow us to see deeper into space and observe cosmic objects with unprecedented sensitivity.

These scientists will discuss the need for large telescopes in today’s modern astronomy, the challenge of building these telescopes and their enclosures, which are rotating buildings, twenty-two-stories tall, and the and instruments for them, which are the size of a European flat. This conversation will include a description of the international consortium’s role in providing political and financial support for the projects. They will also tell us what to expect from these giants and when they will be ready to open their eyes and observe the cosmos.

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Christophe Dumas

Christophe Dumas joined the TMT in July 2015 as TMT Observatory Scientist and Head of Operations. Previously, he was in charge of the science operations of the European Southern Observatory Very Large Telescope in the Atacama desert of Northern Chile. His scientific interest is in studying the physical/chemical characteristics of small primitive solar system bodies and how they can inform us about the formation of planetary systems at large. To this end, he mainly uses ground-based infrared spectrophotometry techniques in coordination with high-angular resolution/contrast adaptive optics instrumentation. Christophe earned a degree in engineering from Supelec in 1992 and a PhD in Astrophysics in 1997 from the University Denis Diderot in Paris.

Rebecca Bernstein

Rebecca Bernstein combines observational astronomy with developing new instruments and techniques to study her objects of interest. Her research has included high resolution spectroscopy of stars and extragalactic star clusters to understand the formation and evolution of galaxies. She also studies the stellar components of galaxy clusters and is engaged in various projects related to dark matter and dark energy—the invisible matter and repulsive force that make up most of the universe. Bernstein has been involved in numerous other instrument projects. She is currently on the faculty of the Carnegie Observatories and the Chief Scientist  for the GMT project, an international consortium where she provides technical and scientific leadership for the design and construction of the telescope.