CHICAGO (CBS) -- The University of Chicago has agreed to kick in $50 million toward a $1 billion project to build a massive telescope in Chile, which one scientist has said will be like putting eyeglasses on the Hubble Telescope.
The Giant Magellan Telescope will be the largest optical telescope in the world, and would provide a view farther into space (and, therefore, further into the galaxy's past) than anything else.
The University of Chicago has been working with 10 other institutions to build the telescope, pledging a combined $500 million for the project so far.
The Giant Magellan Telescope Organization has said the telescope should see first light in 2021, and be fully operational by 2024.
In a YouTube video announcing the project's construction phase, GMTO president Edward Moses said it could answer questions about the origins of the universe and life.
"It's a new epic in the field of astronomy," he said. "It's a new epic for cosmology, astrophysics, and the history of the universe. So we'll be able to see things further and fainter than anyone has ever seen before."
An array of seven segmented mirrors, with a total optical surface more than 80 feet in diameter, it will be built in the Las Campanas Observatory in Chile.
"It's many times larger than the biggest telescopes that currently exist. We can actually see things that are 10 times sharper than the images taken with the Hubble Space Telescope," said Matthew Colless, Vice Chair of the Board of Directors and Director of the Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics at The Australian National University.
Light from objects in space will reflect off a set of primary mirrors, to smaller secondary mirrors, and down through a center mirror to a group of cameras and computers that can measure the objects' distance from Earth, and their material composition.
In addition to the University of Chicago, other institutions helping build the array include Astronomy Austalia 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, The University of Arizona, and The University of Texas at Austin.
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