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Headlines Published on 02 January 2007

Title European astronomers ready to take the lead in space research

European astronomers are one step closer to revolutionising astronomy and space research following the recent decision to move ahead with the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT). The European Southern Observatory (ESO), a European intergovernmental organisation for astronomical research, recently approved a three-year, €57 million study that will lay the groundwork for the world’s largest optical/infrared telescope.

The E-ELT will complement the activities of ESO telescopes in Chile. © ESO
The E-ELT will complement the activities of ESO telescopes in Chile.
The E-ELT is designed to outperform the largest current optical telescopes a hundred-fold, and will answer some of the biggest questions about the Universe in which we live.

“The E-ELT is critical to allow the next big advance in understanding our mysterious Universe. We will search for planets similar to the Earth around other stars, discover the nature of matter by mapping the distribution and properties of the dark matter, which is the matter of which Nature is made, not the rather unimportant amount of stuff of which we are made, and investigate the future of the Universe - is time infinite? - by examining the Dark energy which seems to control the fate of space-time,” says Prof. Gerry Gilmore of the University of Cambridge.

Current blueprints call for 42m diameter segmented mirror telescope housed in an 80m diameter rotating dome. The plans detail a large internal mirror able to distort its own shape a thousand times per second.

“The telescope design incorporates the crucial image sharpening technology in an innovative way that will give the 42 meters the full theoretical capability an instrument of that size can achieve. It will provide an unprecedented clear view of the distant universe enabling us to probe the origins of planets, stars and galaxies,” says Professor Roger Davies, chairman of ESO’s ELT Standing Review Committee.

The progression and development of the E-ELT is due in large part to the cooperation and dedication of European research institutes and high tech industry players. Experts have been working feverishly throughout the past year in hopes of completing the final design. A major step in developing the critical technologies of the telescope has been made possible by the so-called ELT Design Study, principally funded by ESO and the European Commission.

Prof Gilmore chaired the design study.

“Constructing an E-ELT is extremely challenging - as you scale up a telescope the technical difficulties become much more significant. Scientists and industry will both have crucial parts to play in ensuring that the E-ELT is viable,” says Prof Gilmore.

The final location of the E-ELT is yet to be determined as analyses of candidate sites are on-going. A final selection is expected by 2008.

The European Extremely Large Telescope project will maintain and reinforce Europe’s position at the forefront of astrophysical research, gained in large part at the turn of the Century through the ESO Very Large Telescope facility.

More information:

  • ESO
  • European space policy

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