The world’s largest optical telescope is now aptly named The Extremely Large Telescope (ELT). It was initially called the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT) but was changed in 2017. Its new name reflects the expanding number of the European Southern Observatory (ESO)’s international partners, and it’s location which will lie in the mountains of Chile.
ELT will have a primary mirror composed of almost 800 individual segments and will be able to collect more light than all of the existing 8-to-10-meter telescopes on Earth, combined.
According to a statement by Tim de Zeeuw, ESO’s Director General, the ELT will discover things that we cannot imagine today, and it will inspire people from all over the world to think about science, technology and our place in the universe.
This echoes Asgardia’s goals of creating a free, independent nation outside of planet Earth that is open to all, as well as creating a demilitarized and free scientific base of knowledge in space.
The ELT will be composed of a 128-foot (39 m) main mirror made up of 798 individual hexagon segments. Each segment will measure 4.6 feet (1.4 m) across, with a thickness of 2 inches (5 centimetres). Combined, the sections will collect tens of millions of times as much light as the human eye.
The ELT will lie in the Cerro Armazones, Chile, where high altitudes and low humidity make it a prime location for telescopes. The site was chosen back in 2010, and in 2011 the Chilean government donated land for the instrument while committing to keep an extra 140 square miles (362 square kilometres) free of buildings that could interfere with the telescope’s observations.
In 2015, the first instruments were approved for the massive telescope. The tools include a near-infrared imager, an adaptive optics unit, an integral field spectrograph, and a mid-infrared imager and spectrograph.
The first-stone ceremony for the telescope took place in 2017. Beyond kicking off the construction of the ELT, the ceremony also saw the sealing of a time capsule prepared by ESO.
This year, the first six hexagonal segments for the ELT’s main mirror were successfully cast in Germany. Over 900 segments will ultimately be cast that includes 798 for the primary mirror, on top of a spare set of 133. When entirely up to speed, the production rate will be about one segment per day.
First light is targeted for 2024 in the meantime you can watch the construction here.
The primary purpose of the ELT is to scope out extrasolar planets, cast light on other galaxies, and enhance our understanding of the fundamental laws of physics. Moreover, the ELT science program will help us discover and characterize new planets and protoplanetary systems around other stars.
The ELT should also be able to find worlds down to Earth-like masses, in addition, to directly imaging more massive planets and possibly even characterize their atmospheres. It will observe giant planets around young stars and in star-forming regions, tracing their evolution over time.
According to the ESO website, the ELT will answer fundamental questions concerning planet formation and evolution, the planetary environment of other stars, and the uniqueness (or otherwise) of the solar system and Earth.
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