Rendering of the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT)

Astrophysicist Edward DeLuca discusses high-resolution, real-time video of the Sun

Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory

$24.8 Million raised

Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory

On the Frontiers of Science

Astronomy is in a golden age of discovery. Scientists have identified thousands of new planets orbiting distant stars. They now face the challenge of studying these new worlds for signs of life, while continuing to explore galactic mysteries such as black holes. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (SAO) helps meet these challenges through innovation in astronomy and astrophysics.

During the Smithsonian Campaign, several SAO donors made significant gifts to the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT), currently under construction at Las Campanas Observatory in Chile. When commissioned in 2023, the GMT will be the world’s largest telescope, with 10 times the clarity of the Hubble Space Telescope. It will allow scientists to study ancient stars, create a map of the universe and explore how dark matter and energy influence galaxies. Through a generous gift and charitable gift annuity, entrepreneur and former Harvard Business School Professor Myra Hart provided critical seed money for Smithsonian scientists to discover and build the next ventures in space, including the GMT.

Donors also contributed to a second pioneering SAO collaboration—the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) —which aims to capture the first image of a black hole by creating a virtual Earth-sized telescope. Scientists believe they are on the verge of capturing an image of the Milky Way’s central, supermassive black hole, which will help us understand how galaxies are created. In 2015, the EHT enabled a key scientific breakthrough when astronomers first detected the powerful magnetic fields around a black hole.

The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation provided a three-year gift to the EHT, which will help establish a new EHT observation station in Greenland, increase data processing speeds for the telescope, and explore new imaging algorithms.

Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory
Leadership Message

Leadership Message

I am an astrophysicist, which means I love answering big questions, especially ones that involve the possibility of other life in the universe. When we look at our own planet Earth, we see that life abounds everywhere. Do these same conditions exist elsewhere on distant worlds, orbiting distant stars?

Remarkably, 21st-century science and engineering may soon answer that question. The new Giant Magellan Telescope, under construction in Chile, promises to reveal many answers.

The discovery of life elsewhere in the universe happens only once in the history of an intelligent species. We are poised to make that discovery.

You are invited to join us and share in the grandest of all adventures, the search for life in the universe.

Now is the time to invest in our quest to answer the most fundamental question humans have asked since the beginning of time: Are we alone?

Thank you.

  • Charles Alcock
    Charles Alcock
    Director, Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory
Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory
Campaign Case

The Search for Life in the Universe Begins

Astronomy is in a golden age of discovery. Scientists have identified thousands of new planets orbiting distant stars. Astronomers now face the challenge of studying these newfound worlds for signs of life.

To explore these far-off planets, scientists at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory will employ a powerful new tool, the Giant Magellan Telescope, under construction at the Las Campanas Observatory in Chile.

The Giant Magellan is a marvel of optical and mechanical engineering, with seven enormous mirrors, each one 28 feet in diameter. Acting in concert, these mirrors will collect light to form a gigantic telescope of unprecedented power, with 10 times the clarity of the Hubble Space Telescope.

Scientists will be able to study ancient stars, create a map of the universe and discover how dark matter and energy influence galaxies. The Giant Magellan Telescope will isolate and photograph individual stars in distant galaxies.

The Smithsonian is partnering to build this telescope with the Carnegie Institution for Science, the Australian National University, Astronomy Australia Limited, Harvard University, the Korea Astronomy and Space Science Institute, Texas A&M University, the University of Arizona, the University of Chicago and the University of Texas at Austin.

Your investment in the Giant Magellan Telescope will help fund the technology necessary for Smithsonian scientists to revolutionize our view of the universe and our place in it.

Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory

The Giant Magellan Telescope

We seek gifts of $25,000 or more. Gifts of $1.5 million to $5 million may be recognized by naming a position, such as the directorship or a research fellowship. Leadership gifts of $10 million to $20 million or more may be recognized by naming one of the research centers at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory.

Campaign Priorities

The Giant Magellan Telescope is a

Planet Hunter

The Consortium Large Earth Finder will detect worlds the size of Earth, located in the warm, habitable zones of stars. This instrument will study ancient stars to measure the build-up of chemical elements through stellar generations.

The Giant Magellan Telescope is a

Galaxy Mapper

The Wide Field Multi-Object Spectrograph will pinpoint galaxies in three dimensions, creating an exquisitely accurate map of our universe. Scientists will be able to discover how dark matter and dark energy influence galaxies.

The Giant Magellan Telescope is a

Star Finder

The Integral-Field Spectrograph will isolate and photograph individual stars in distant galaxies with the same capability that allowed Edwin Hubble to prove our galaxy is one of many. This instrument will probe the era of the first stars, which burned away a dark fog that filled the early universe.

Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory

Charles Alcock 



Charles Alcock

Are We Alone?

As director of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, Charles Alcock is on one of the biggest quests in the 21st century: to find signs of life in space. With a powerful new tool, the Giant Magellan Telescope, scientists will probe planets orbiting nearby stars. An investment in the telescope will help the Observatory answer an old question: Are we alone? 

Colin R. Masson and family with Secretary Wayne Clough, left, and Board of Regents Chair John W. McCarter, Jr., right



Colin R. Masson

Gift Helps Observatory Explore the Universe

Colin R. Masson knows the far reaches of the universe. He built telescopes during his career in radio astronomy. For years, he worked at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory. When he took a chance on more earthly pursuits at Renaissance Technologies, a hedge fund, his interest in space never wavered. He has given generously to the Observatory. Those gifts enable the Observatory to deeply explore the complexities of our galaxies.

BICEP Observatory at the South Pole. Observations are seeking evidence confirming the Big Bang.



Myra M. Hart

Entrepreneur's Philanthropy Invests in What Is Next

Myra M. Hart is an entrepreneur. She was on the founding team of Staples, Inc. and sits on the board for Kraft Foods Inc. As a professor at the Harvard Business School, she co-chaired the entrepreneurship unit. Now, she is investing in the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory to advance our understanding of the universe through astronomy and astrophysics. Her gift and charitable gift annuity provide important seed money for Smithsonian scientists to discover and build the next ventures in space. 

Clay Telescope



Landon Clay

Supporting Those Who Seek Answers to Profound Questions

Alexander Graham Bell invested in the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in 1890. Bell’s seed money paved the way for a long list of investors willing to push the limits of scientific inquiry. An endowment established by philanthropist Thomas G. Hodgkins funded the launch of the world’s first liquid-propelled rocket by Robert H. Goddard in 1926. In contemporary times, Landon T. and Lavinia D. Clay created a fund to help upgrade the twin Magellan telescopes and to support post-doctoral fellows as they focus on deep astrophysical questions. "We know that science requires substantial financial resources. Clay fellows not only help define an important problem, they also have devised workable pathways to answer the deep questions posed by their research,” says Landon Clay.

Shirley Anne Jackson



Shirley Ann Jackson

They Invest in Tomorrow's Scholars

Shirley Ann Jackson and Morris A. Washington are both physicists. Jackson is president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the first woman and African American to chair the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission and a Vice Chair of the Smithsonian Board of Regents. As scientists, the couple recognize the pursuit of discovery is not predictable or linear. They have created an endowment at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory to fund fellows-in-residence, determined by the director. Their gift honors the support they received at critical junctures in their own scientific careers. "Knowing how the Smithsonian plans for the future, I see how vital an endowment is to strengthening the overall institution. That's especially true in science," she says. "You need the flexibility to empower the brightest people." 

Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory

Contact Us

Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory Campaign Officers

Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory

Total Goal:
$24.8 Million


$24.8 Million Raised

As of November 30, 2017

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