Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Extremely large astronomical telescopes a step closer


Astronomers think big all the time: it’s their job. And on 13th December, at a meeting hosted by the Royal Astronomical Society in London, a group of them will juggle with some truly astounding large numbers. On this occasion, though, they won’t be discussing the distances to remote galaxies, but the phenomenal sizes of the telescopes they want to build so they can explore the universe to a level of detail previous generations of astronomers would never have dreamt possible. Announcing a significant development, Professor Gerry Gilmore of Cambridge University will tell the meeting that Europe’s astronomers have just agreed to join forces in a single project to design a new generation of ground-based optical/infrared telescopes, the Extremely Large Telescope.

The largest telescopes operating currently (the two Keck Telescopes in Hawaii) have segmented mirrors 10 metres across. Now, astronomers around the world are working towards a giant leap for astronomy - ’extremely large telescopes’ (ELTs) up to 100 metres across, 10 times bigger than the Kecks. According to Dr Adrian Russell, Director of the UK Astronomy Technology Centre (UK ATC) in Edinburgh, a telescope that large will take up more glass than has been used in all the telescopes built in the history of astronomy put together.

In Europe, several projects have been under study for some years, each aimed at identifying the key technological and organisational advances that must be met to achieve such a big step . From this month, the two main projects - Euro-50, led from Sweden, and OWL, led from the European Southern Observatory (ESO) - are joining forces with colleagues throughout Europe to create a single project, which will develop a proposal for substantial additional funding from the European Union.

"An ELT facility will revolutionise astronomy with its ability to collect light from faint objects and distinguish details in its images that have never been seen before", says Eli Atad who is Head of the Applied Optics Group at the UK ATC and co-organiser of the meeting.

But ELTs are not just desirable, say astronomers: they are vital. The key to understanding a remote astronomical object is its spectrum. Collecting enough light to spread into a spectrum requires a much larger telescope than recording an ordinary image. "The largest telescopes we have today are struggling to obtain spectra of the faintest objects observable with the Hubble Space Telescope," says Dr Tim Hawarden, Project Scientist for ELTs at the ATC and a speaker at the meeting. "Hubble’s successor, the James Webb Space Telescope, begins operation in less than 10 years. It will discover objects much fainter than Hubble can see and the problem of acquiring spectra will get ten times worse. To make the most of discoveries with the James Webb Space Telescope, it’s essential to have ELTs operating on the ground at the same time."

As is the case with the Keck Telescopes, the mirrors of the Extremely Large Telescopes of the future will not be a single huge disc of glass, but will consist of thousands of hexagonal glass ’tiles’. "The technology exists", says Eli Atad, "but the mass production of mirror segments is a challenge."

"We have to prove that the key technologies are viable and affordable," says Gerry Gilmore, who chairs the steering committee for the new combined European ELT project. "In particular, we have to demonstrate that the huge number of components needed for an ELT can be built taking advantage of industrial-scale efficiencies. The challenge is as much managerial and industrial as it is technical. But it must be met if Europe’s astronomers are to have the tools they need to keep abreast of international scientific developments."

"The potential payoffs from ELTs can fairly be described as awesome" says Tim Hawarden. "For example, we may be able to see Earth-like planets, if there are any, in orbit around stars up to tens of light years away, and perhaps even find out what their atmospheres are made of. Just how large we can make the new giant telescopes is still a matter for debate, and that is part of what the meeting on 13th December is all about."

Jacqueline Mitton | alfa
Further information:

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Move over, lasers: Scientists can now create holograms from neutrons, too
21.10.2016 | National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

nachricht Finding the lightest superdeformed triaxial atomic nucleus
20.10.2016 | The Henryk Niewodniczanski Institute of Nuclear Physics Polish Academy of Sciences

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

Im Focus: Ultra-thin ferroelectric material for next-generation electronics

'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.

Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Resolving the mystery of preeclampsia

21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine

Stanford researchers create new special-purpose computer that may someday save us billions

21.10.2016 | Information Technology

From ancient fossils to future cars

21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>