Scrutinizing the origin of the universe or proving the existence of black holes are two of the tasks to which Mexico’s largest Millimetric Telescope (GTM), the largest of its kind in the world, will devote its time in 2018, completing 20 years of work.
A giant satellite dish 50 meters in diameter sets the silhouette of the top of Sierra Negra in the state of Puebla in central Mexico, an extinct volcano of 4,600 meters high, where temperatures are usually around zero degrees Celsius.
“There is no other millimeter telescope of this diameter, most are between 10 and 15 meters, and there are some with 35 meters. Alfonso Serrano, David Hughes.
This giant observes the millimetric electromagnetic radiation from astronomical sources, including some very fragile signals, from the colder objects traveling through space.
He not only observes long distances, like a conventional telescope but analyzes the original matter to study “the whole history of the universe,” Hughes specified.
Thanks to millimeter telescopes it is possible to study the formation and evolution of the structure of the cosmos since its emergence in the Big Bang 13.7 billion years ago.
The GTM started operating in 2011 and carried out its first research in 2014.
In 2017 a team of researchers published an article in the journal Nature Astronomy on the observation of one of the first mass galaxies that formed 12.8 billion years ago.
“He was able to detect a galaxy in the very distant universe when he was one-seventh of the size he has today,” he explained, explaining that this galaxy was “darkened in optical frequencies but very bright in millimetric frequencies because of the presence of molecular gas and gunpowder “.
The importance of this discovery, Hughes added, is not only because of the youth of this astronomical object, which will allow us to understand “the chemistry of billions of years of the universe”, but also because it holds a “connection,” a similarity, to objects we can detect in the local universe.
All this was possible when the diameter of the telescope was 32 meters, and the magnification at 50 can multiply the results, including traveling back in time.
Always in a millimeter way – analyzing radiations that reach the Earth, because the galaxy in question has possibly disappeared.
Despite its worldwide leadership, this project – a partnership between Mexico and the United States, which has the close collaboration of Massachusetts Amherst University – is part of a network of telescopes that have been working since last year in an exercise that can revolutionize science: prove the existence of black holes, which was mathematically established by Albert Einstein in the famous General Theory of Relativity in 1915.
“These objects are relatively small in the scale of the universe and we need huge telescopes to measure and detect the shadow of a black hole,” Hughes explained.
But in the center of our galaxy, the Milky Way, there are strong indications of a black hole with a mass equivalent to six million times that of our Sun.
With the simultaneous study of nine-millimeter telescopes distributed around the world – from Antarctica to Mexico, from Spain to Hawaii – that point to the center of the galaxy and then analyze the dataset over several days, it would be possible to get unique results.
“We are in the process of analyzing the data to produce for the first time a photo, an image that can prove the existence of a black hole. It would be a shadow, a dark region, and around light and millimetric radiation,” Hughes said.
With these perspectives, 2018 can mark a before and after in astronomy, with the implementation of 100% of the telescope, a dream of the Mexican scientist Alfonso Serrano, who died in 2011.
The construction phase of the telescope, which was very complex by the orography and costs, involved 120 people.
The project cost the US $ 200 million, 70% funded by Mexico through the National Science and Technology Council.
Once the construction of this cutting-edge telescope is finished, it is now time for research and scientific instrumentalization.