Edward Moses

GMTO

In abrupt move, president of Giant Magellan Telescope resigns

Change is afoot at the offices of the Giant Magellan Telescope Organization (GMTO), which is building one of the world’s largest telescopes. Today the group announced that its president, physicist Edward Moses, is stepping down after less than a year in the job. Moses is leaving to “deal with family matters that require his attention,” according to a statement on the GMTO website.

It’s the second recent high-profile departure from the project. On 9 July the organization announced that Wendy Freedman of the University of Chicago was stepping down as chair of the GMTO board after 12 years in the role.  

When completed, the Giant Magellan Telescope will have a mirror 25 meters across, roughly 2.5 the size of today’s top telescopes. When it begins operation in 2024 at Las Campanas in northern Chile, it will join two other giant telescopes that are also just beginning construction: the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) in Hawaii and the 39-meter European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT) at Cerro Armazones in Chile. The GMT’s huge reflector will be made up of seven large mirrors mounted together, each one 8.4 meters across and weighing 17 tonnes. The other two giant scopes use a segmented mirror approach, their reflectors patched together with a much larger number of hexagonal mirror tiles (798 on the E-ELT and 492 on the TMT), each one independently steerable.

The construction of the GMT officially began last month when its 11 international partner institutions secured $500 million in funding, out of an expected total of about $1 billion.

Prior to joining GMTO, Moses had been at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, where he was director of the National Ignition Facility (NIF), a laser fusion lab, during the latter stages of its construction and its early operation. He was sometimes seen within the fusion community as a divisive figure, in part because of his relentless promotion of NIF and his overly optimistic forecasts of future progress. He instigated a project at Livermore, known as LIFE, that aimed to design a prototype power-generating fusion reactor using similar technology to NIF that could be built in just 10 years. “Under Ed’s leadership, the LIFE project damaged the reputation of the research field. It was premature and its timescale was unrealistic,” says Robert McCrory, director of the Laboratory for Laser Energetics at the University of Rochester in New York.

In the statement, the GMTO board thanked Moses “for his important service to GMTO in leading the project from the design phase to the start of the construction phase. Dr. Moses was instrumental in sealing the GMTO Founders’ Agreement and in developing the legal and financial framework for the project.”

Moses will be replaced, on an interim basis, by astronomer Patrick McCarthy of The Carnegie Observatories, the statement said. McCarthy is a former executive vice president of GMTO, and has been involved in the effort since 2008.

GMTO is based in Pasadena, California.