Astronomers think big all the time: its 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 wont 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 Europes 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.
Jacqueline Mitton | alfa
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