TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - University of Arizona is a world leader in studying the stars and understanding the planets.
Now UA is well into building the fifth of seven mirrors for the Giant Magellan Telescope ----an Earth-based telescope that will be a hundred times sharper than the Hubble.
At the University of Arizona in a very special facility tucked under the UA football stadium scientists and technicians are making something made nowhere else in the world.
UA's Mirror Lab is able to make huge, precisely crafted telescope mirrors. Now they are making a series of mirrors about 28 feet wide to go into what will become the most powerful astronomy telescope in the world.
What begins as blocks of glass, will end up on a mountaintop in Chile, in a telescope almost as tall as the Statue of Liberty and powerful enough to see faint starlight from so deep in space it may be light from soon after the universe began.
Special glass is loaded into an oven that spins as it melts tons of glass into a disk close to the right curve to focus the starlight.
Precisely the right curve will take roughly three years of slow shaping. A small error is allowed--as long as it is no more than 25 nanometers. A human hair is three thousand times thicker than that.
Dae Wok Kim is a professor at the Mirror Lab. He says UA scientists had to make one mirror that precise to convince other scientists they could do it.
"There was a moment...Yes...This is actually possible. Human beings now have a technology that enables us to build it.”
The fine focus will help astronomers see light that left stars fourteen billion years ago.
Patrick McCarthy of the Giant Magellan Telescope project says , “The second class of questions involves planets, like our own. The planets around other stars, other planetary systems, solar systems so to speak and we want to explore those planets and find out are they like Earth, are they different, could they host life, could they be like ours?"
And astronomers say the mirrors made at UA will help answer questions they have not even thought of yet when they start seeing the stars in about six years.