RAS 'welcomes' decision to build E-ELT, world’s largest optical telescope

June 13, 2012
London, England--The Royal Astronomical Society said today that it welcomed the (in-principle) decision to go ahead and construct the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT).
In this rendering, the E-ELT is compared in size with the existing VLT Unit Telescopes at Cerro Paranal, Chile and the Brandenburg Gate. (Image: ESO)

London, England--The Royal Astronomical Society said today that it welcomed the (in-principle) decision to go ahead and construct the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT). When complete in 2022, E-ELT will be the largest optical telescope in the world, with a main mirror 39.3 m in diameter and a 4.2 m secondary. The decision to build the telescope, made by the governing Council of the European Southern Observatory (ESO), an international collaboration of fifteen member countries, still has to be ratified by four countries including the United Kingdom. If approved, then preparation of the telescope site in Chile should begin later this year.

E-ELT will observe the universe in visible and IR light, making direct images of planets in orbit around other stars, possibly including Earthlike worlds, and studying the first galaxies that formed after the Big Bang. The telescope should enable a certain amount of spectroscopy of the atmospheres of exoplanets. Its primary will be made up of 798 individual hexagonal mirrors, and will use adaptive optics to correct for atmospheric turbulence. The result should be a telescope that approaches the Hubble Space telescope in image quality, but collects vastly more light and does this on the ground, where it is accessible for repair and upgrading.

"We urge the UK government to approve our involvement in E-ELT as soon as possible, so that British scientists and engineers can take a full role in what is set to be one of the most exciting scientific projects of the 21st century," says RAS president David Southwood. "The decision is good news not only for the UK but for astronomers across Europe. It is good to see Europe boldly going where others have yet to venture. E-ELT will help us answer some of the fundamental questions about the universe, from the nature of planets around other stars to the early history of the cosmos. World-leading projects of this kind inspire us all and are hugely effective in bringing young people into careers in science and technology. The announcement on the same day of increased astronomy content in the national curriculum recognizes this. Some of the students benefiting from the new curriculum may well be among the first to exploit the new facility when it comes online.”

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