Searches for signs of life on planets around other stars are now in sight with the signing of a multimillion-dollar contract to build the steel structure of the world's largest optical telescope on a remote mountain in Chile.
The Giant Magellan Telescope project, in which ANU is a partner, will enable astronomers to take the next steps in humanity's exploration of our Universe using one of the world's premier sites for astronomy.
Professor Matthew Colless, Director of the ANU Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics, congratulated MT Mechatronics and Ingersoll Machine Tools on winning the contract to build the mount for the 24.5-metre telescope.
The telescope is expected to be operational within a decade.
"This is an exciting phase of the project and is a big stride towards completing the Giant Magellan Telescope," he said.
Professor Colless said the telescope's observations of faint stars and distant galaxies will help astronomers understand the formation of galaxies, stars and black holes, and gain insight into the mysterious dark matter and dark energy that pervade the Universe.
ANU is one of 12 international partners that have committed a total of more than US$500 million to the GMT project.
The new telescope will consist of seven main mirrors, each 8.4 metres in diameter, which reflect light onto a secondary system made of flexible mirrors that compensate for the distortion caused by the atmosphere, effectively taking the twinkle out of stars.
GMTO Corporation manages the GMT project on behalf of its international founders: Arizona State University, Astronomy Australia Ltd, The Australian National University, Carnegie Institution for Science, Fundação de Amparo à Pesquisa do Estado de São Paulo, Harvard University, Korea Astronomy and Space Science Institute, Smithsonian Institution, Texas A&M University, University of Arizona, University of Chicago and The University of Texas at Austin.