Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Extremely large astronomical telescopes a step closer

05.12.2002


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:
http://www.roe.ac.uk/atc/ras2002/

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Explosion on Jupiter-sized star 10 times more powerful than ever seen on our sun
18.04.2019 | University of Warwick

nachricht In vivo super-resolution photoacoustic computed tomography by localization of single dyed droplets
18.04.2019 | Changchun Institute of Optics, Fine Mechanics and Physics, Chinese 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: Explosion on Jupiter-sized star 10 times more powerful than ever seen on our sun

A stellar flare 10 times more powerful than anything seen on our sun has burst from an ultracool star almost the same size as Jupiter

  • Coolest and smallest star to produce a superflare found
  • Star is a tenth of the radius of our Sun
  • Researchers led by University of Warwick could only see...

Im Focus: Quantum simulation more stable than expected

A localization phenomenon boosts the accuracy of solving quantum many-body problems with quantum computers which are otherwise challenging for conventional computers. This brings such digital quantum simulation within reach on quantum devices available today.

Quantum computers promise to solve certain computational problems exponentially faster than any classical machine. “A particularly promising application is the...

Im Focus: Largest, fastest array of microscopic 'traffic cops' for optical communications

The technology could revolutionize how information travels through data centers and artificial intelligence networks

Engineers at the University of California, Berkeley have built a new photonic switch that can control the direction of light passing through optical fibers...

Im Focus: A long-distance relationship in femtoseconds

Physicists observe how electron-hole pairs drift apart at ultrafast speed, but still remain strongly bound.

Modern electronics relies on ultrafast charge motion on ever shorter length scales. Physicists from Regensburg and Gothenburg have now succeeded in resolving a...

Im Focus: Researchers 3D print metamaterials with novel optical properties

Engineers create novel optical devices, including a moth eye-inspired omnidirectional microwave antenna

A team of engineers at Tufts University has developed a series of 3D printed metamaterials with unique microwave or optical properties that go beyond what is...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Revered mathematicians and computer scientists converge with 200 young researchers in Heidelberg!

17.04.2019 | Event News

First dust conference in the Central Asian part of the earth’s dust belt

15.04.2019 | Event News

Fraunhofer FHR at the IEEE Radar Conference 2019 in Boston, USA

09.04.2019 | Event News

 
Latest News

New automated biological-sample analysis systems to accelerate disease detection

18.04.2019 | Life Sciences

Explosion on Jupiter-sized star 10 times more powerful than ever seen on our sun

18.04.2019 | Physics and Astronomy

New eDNA technology used to quickly assess coral reefs

18.04.2019 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>