Eagle Scout Astronomer gets a glimpse at rare mirror-firing for the Giant Magellan Telescope

Stellar accomplishments, like earning the Eagle Scout award, reap stellar rewards. Eagle Scout Tristan Bullard can attest to this, as he watched astronomers take one step closer to completing the Giant Magellan Telescope at Saturday’s rare mirror-firing event.

During a Mirror Lab tour, visitors looked on as the massive mirror is "fired" in a spun-cast furnace (shown at back of photo).
During a Mirror Lab tour, visitors watch as the massive mirror is “fired” in a spun-cast furnace (shown at back of photo). Courtesy of NESA.

Alongside internationally known scientists and astronomers, Tristan — who was named Eagle Scout Astronomer earlier this year— looked on as liquid glass spun in a gigantic furnace reaching 1170 degrees Celsius at the University of Arizona’s Steward Observatory Mirror Lab in Tucson.

The new, 20-ton mirror is the third of seven mirrors needed to construct the Giant Magellan Telescope, a project that will allow astronomers to look into the cosmos with clarity and precision 10 times sharper than the Hubble Space Telescope. The GMT mirror-firing is considered to be the most challenging optics ever undertaken with each mirror measuring 27 feet in diameter.

Tristan says the mirror firing was a once-in-a-lifetime event. And one that he experienced thanks to the National Eagle Scout Association.

Read more about how Tristan got the chance to attend the mirror-firing after the jump.

Tristan first visited Fort Worth, Texas, and the world-famous Stockyards before continuing his journey to the Arizona mirror-firing.
Tristan first visited Fort Worth, Texas, and the world-famous Stockyards before continuing his journey to the Arizona mirror-firing. Courtesy of NESA.

The 15-year-old Scout applied to the NESA Eagle Scout Astronomer contest earlier this year, writing, “My dad is an officer in the Air Force working for Air Force Space Command. Astronomy is something we do together, no matter where he is.” But for this junior-high student, gazing into the night sky isn’t just a way to connect with his dad. He plans to study astronomy or physics with the eventual goal of working at NASA.

As the official Eagle Scout Astronomer, Tristan joined NESA President Glenn Adams and NESA Director Bill Steele at the mirror-firing, where he also got the chance to rub elbows with the who’s who of astronomy.

Perhaps by the time the GMT is completed and installed at the Chilean Las Campanas Observatory in 2020, Bullard will be among the top astronomers using the giant telescope to examine far-reaching corners of the universe.

Interested in entering the search for the next Eagle Scout Astronomer? Keep your eye on the NESA Facebook page, where the group announces nationwide searches for the Eagle Scout Astronomer, Eagle Scout Argonaut and other opportunities for young Eagle Scouts.

Rendering courtesy of the Giant Magellan Telescope.


  1. Bryan,

    1) thanks for the awesome blog and email!! I love all the posts

    2) re: this post & the telescope firing… why was it warmed to 1170C, a) to fuse the various pieces of the glass b) to apply the ultra-thin metal coating to the surface, to make it a mirror c) some other reason ?

    3) If you shared it and I just didn’t see it, can you make my eyes work again? : )

    Thanks, Mie


    • Hey, Michael. You’re right on target — the furnace is heated to an extremely high temperature in order to melt and cast the glass. If you take a look at the photo album from the event on NESA’s Facebook page, you can see an image of the glass cubes before they’re melted down. Very cool! Er, hot! —Gretchen

  2. Very cool to see scouts still interested in astronomy..I’ve been an astro counselor for over 20 years and only had 2 scouts persue the badge..too bad, we have nice dark skies and lots to see..and a planetarium at their disposal on cloudy days

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