A new “world’s largest telescope” comes along every few years, part of a race to build instruments that see farther into the heavens.

In part three of Collecting Light: An Exploration of Arizona Astronomy, we learn more about the future of professional stargazing and attempts to build increasingly sensitive observing equipment.

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Currently, the Large Binocular Telescope in eastern Arizona, with its twin 8.4-meter (27-inch) diameter mirrors, is considered the world’s largest. But that won’t last long.

Large Binocular Telescope
Many modern telescopes are housed in cube-like structures instead of domes. The Large Binocular Telescope sits in an 8-story high enclosure that can rotate 180-degrees. (Photo: Mark Duggan)

A new generation of “super telescopes” are coming online in the next few years that feature multiple segments of giant mirrors.

The Giant Magellan Telescope in Chile’s Atacama Desert will have seven 8.4-meter mirrors.

The GMT’s mirrors were made at the Steward Observatory Mirror Labs in Tucson.

They’re also casting and polishing mirrors for the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, also coming to South America. Its 3200-megapixel camera will create 30 terabytes of data a night for ten years.

Giant Magellan Telescope mirror at Mirror Lab
One of seven 8.4-meter segments of mirror destined for the Giant Magellan Telescope in Chile. The Steward Observatory Mirror Lab makes the mirrors, which take several years to cast, grind, and polish. (Photo: Mark Duggan)

Collecting Light: An Exploration of Arizona Astronomy is an audio documentary series looking at the past, present, and future of both professional and amateur stargazing in the state.

See a gallery of photos from the series here. Listen to the other episodes now:

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