A new telescope is termed “the world’s largest” every few years. The race is on to build instruments that see farther into the heavens and explain more of the unknown universe.

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 University of Arizona’s Steward Observatory Mirror Lab is casting and polishing the GMT’s mirrors.

They’re also making mirrors for the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, slated for 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 mirror segments 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 state’s past, present, and future of professional and amateur stargazing.

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

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