‘Biggest eye on the sky’: Britain begins work on the world’s largest telescope

Britain is ready to build the world’s largest ground-based optical telescope: Extremely Large Telescope (ELT).

According to the recent announcement, the UK Astronomy Technology Center (UK ATC) will begin developing the first instrument to be equipped on this advanced telescope.

This Colosseum-sized Roman telescope will be located 3,000 meters above sea level in the Atacama Desert in Chile. The European Southern Observatory (ESO), which also operates a Very Large Telescope (VLT) in this desert, is leading its construction.

The high location offers ideal, dry conditions for sky observations.

The first approved instrument

The first instrument approved is the Mid-infrared ELT Imager and Spectrograph (METIS). It recently passed final design review and is now ready for production.

The METIS consortium consists of ten astronomical research institutes, including the Netherlands Research School for Astronomy (NOVA) and Leiden University.

“The METIS instrument will be invaluable in enabling the ELT to look at mid-infrared light more accurately than ever before, in an effort to change our understanding of our place in the universe,” said Gillian Wright, director of the STFC UK ATC , in the press release.

Astronomers will use the instrument’s mid-infrared vision to view planet-forming disks filled with gas and dust. Dust particles often absorb visible light. Therefore, mid-infrared imaging is essential for studying these locations. The insights could shape our understanding of the formation and evolution of galaxies.

In addition to its other stated scientific goals, METIS will search for nearby exoplanets, investigate the origins of our solar system and study the core of galaxies, where supermassive black holes lurk.

Interestingly, this important telescope instrument will be able to search for potential habitable worlds. This is because some cooler planets produce light in the mid-infrared band.

ELT will produce sharper images than Hubble

Once fully completed, this ground-based telescope will be one of a kind. The ELT is one of the most ambitious scientific and engineering projects in history, seeking to explore the furthest reaches of the universe.

It will explore the universe using visible and infrared wavelengths of light. Interestingly, the 39-meter main mirror has the unique potential to collect 100 million times more light than the human eye.

In total, ELT will use the power of five mirrors to explore the universe in unprecedented detail. Three of them have curved shapes to explore and capture clear images of the sky from a wide angle.

Thanks to the high-tech mirrors, ELT on the ground can produce “images that are 16 times sharper than those of the Hubble Space Telescope.”

To answer fundamental questions

With its range of advanced instruments, the ELT will attempt to answer fundamental questions about our universe, such as the presence of Earth-like planets around other stars, signs of life beyond our solar system, and the formation and evolution of the earliest galaxies.

In addition, the high-tech instruments will allow researchers to capture detailed images of the universe, including the first galaxies, and help them understand their evolution over time.

In addition, ELT will be able to estimate the rate at which the universe is expanding, helping experts better understand cosmology.

This 3,000-ton telescope is expected to begin scientific operations in 2028.


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Mrigakshi Dixit Mrigakshi is a science journalist who enjoys writing about space exploration, biology and technological innovations. Her professional experience spans both television and digital media, allowing her to teach a variety of storytelling formats. Her work has been featured in well-known publications including Nature India, Supercluster and Astronomy magazine. If you have pitches in mind, don’t hesitate to send her an email.

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