(Credit: European Southern Observatory)
No, it’s not something out of a Monty Python sketch. The “European Extremely Large Telescope” is, in fact, a real project. And it is, in fact, extremely large.
Or it will be, once it’s built — it’ll be the world’s largest optical/infrared telescope, actually. And with the recent vote to move the project beyond planning stages, the E-ELT may well be operational by sometime early in the next decade.
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The European Southern Observatory, or ESO, which bills itself as “the foremost intergovernmental astronomy organization in Europe” (and is the organization behind the not-quite-so-impressively-named Very Large Telescope), gave the thumbs-up earlier this week to start construction on the E-ELT. That kickoff pends final approval by the governments of four member states — and the honoring, by member states, of their stated financial commitments to the project.
From its home atop a mountain in Chile, and with its 131-foot main mirror, the E-ELT will, the ESO says, “tackle the biggest scientific challenges of our time,” including looking for habitable, Earth-like planets in other solar systems; measuring the properties of the first stars and galaxies (and performing “stellar archeology”); and probing the nature of dark matter and dark energy.
The ESO says the telescope will be “four to five times larger than the present-day state-of-the-art facilities of this kind, and will collect about 15 times more light. It will also be much larger than the two other extremely large telescopes in planning, the Thirty-Meter Telescope and the Giant Magellan Telescope.”
But it’s not all about size. The E-ELT will also feature the latest in high-tech astronomical wizardry, including an adaptive mirror which, with the help of 6,000 actuators, will be able to distort its shape a thousand times a second to compensate for fuzziness produced by atmospheric turbulence. The telescope’s can observe over a wide range of wavelengths, from optical to mid-infrared.
“The E-ELT will…lead to an extraordinary harvest of exciting science,” Xavier Barcons, president of the ESO’s governing council, said in a statement on the ESO’s Web site.
The cost of the telescope is estimated to be about 1 billion Euros ($1.26 billion).
via CNET Latest News http://news.cnet.com/8301-17938_105-57453593-1/extremely-large-telescope-gets-rather-strong-vote-of-confidence/?part=rss&subj=latest-news2&tag=title