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 Researchers demonstrate three-dimensional quantum hall effect for the first time
19.08.2019 | Singapore University of Technology and Design

nachricht A laser for penetrating waves
19.08.2019 | Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf

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: A miniature stretchable pump for the next generation of soft robots

Soft robots have a distinct advantage over their rigid forebears: they can adapt to complex environments, handle fragile objects and interact safely with humans. Made from silicone, rubber or other stretchable polymers, they are ideal for use in rehabilitation exoskeletons and robotic clothing. Soft bio-inspired robots could one day be deployed to explore remote or dangerous environments.

Most soft robots are actuated by rigid, noisy pumps that push fluids into the machines' moving parts. Because they are connected to these bulky pumps by tubes,...

Im Focus: Vehicle Emissions: New sensor technology to improve air quality in cities

Researchers at TU Graz are working together with European partners on new possibilities of measuring vehicle emissions.

Today, air pollution is one of the biggest challenges facing European cities. As part of the Horizon 2020 research project CARES (City Air Remote Emission...

Im Focus: Self healing robots that "feel pain"

Over the next three years, researchers from the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, University of Cambridge, École Supérieure de Physique et de Chimie Industrielles de la ville de Paris (ESPCI-Paris) and Empa will be working together with the Dutch Polymer manufacturer SupraPolix on the next generation of robots: (soft) robots that ‘feel pain’ and heal themselves. The partners can count on 3 million Euro in support from the European Commission.

Soon robots will not only be found in factories and laboratories, but will be assisting us in our immediate environment. They will help us in the household, to...

Im Focus: Scientists create the world's thinnest gold

Scientists at the University of Leeds have created a new form of gold which is just two atoms thick - the thinnest unsupported gold ever created.

The researchers measured the thickness of the gold to be 0.47 nanometres - that is one million times thinner than a human finger nail. The material is regarded...

Im Focus: Study on attosecond timescale casts new light on electron dynamics in transition metals

An international team of scientists involving the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) in Hamburg has unraveled the light-induced electron-localization dynamics in transition metals at the attosecond timescale. The team investigated for the first time the many-body electron dynamics in transition metals before thermalization sets in. Their work has now appeared in Nature Physics.

The researchers from ETH Zurich (Switzerland), the MPSD (Germany), the Center for Computational Sciences of University of Tsukuba (Japan) and the Center for...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

The power of thought – the key to success: CYBATHLON BCI Series 2019

16.08.2019 | Event News

4th Hybrid Materials and Structures 2020 28 - 29 April 2020, Karlsruhe, Germany

14.08.2019 | Event News

What will the digital city of the future look like? City Science Summit on 1st and 2nd October 2019 in Hamburg

12.08.2019 | Event News

 
Latest News

Stanford builds a heat shield just 10 atoms thick to protect electronic devices

19.08.2019 | Information Technology

Researchers demonstrate three-dimensional quantum hall effect for the first time

19.08.2019 | Physics and Astronomy

Catalysts for climate protection

19.08.2019 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>