Europeans gear up for largest optical/infrared telescope
The European Southern Observatory (ESO) has announced it will construct the biggest optical/infrared telescope worldwide, as part of the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT) programme. The project, which encompasses a near-40-metre segmented-mirror telescope that will help astronomers piece together Universe-related puzzles, recently got the ESO Council's green light and is pending confirmation of four so-called ad referendum votes. The E-ELT, said researchers, is scheduled to get off the ground after 2020, and will surpass the current largest optical telescope by gathering 13 times more light.
The location of the new telescope is Chile, specifically on the Cerro Armazones mountain and near the ESO's La Silla Paranal Observatory. Support for the project from ESO Member States is strong. At the 11 June Council meeting, Austria, the Czech Republic, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden and Switzerland gave the project a thumbs up, while affirmative votes from Belgium, Italy, Finland and the United Kingdom are expected in the near future.
In a statement, the ESO said that apart from the initial civil works, spending on elements will begin only when the contributions promised by the Member States top 90 % of the EUR 1.1 million cost to completion (based on 2012 prices). The contributions were agreed in the funding principles approved by the Council last winter.
The first large E-ELT industrial contracts must be approved and major funding committed by 2013 in order to maintain the schedule and ensure the conditions are met. Besides the members that have already approved the project and the pending votes, Brazil is expected to approve the programme as well.
'This is an excellent outcome and a great day for ESO,' said ESO director general Tim de Zeeuw after the project was approved. 'We can now move forward on schedule with this giant project.'
The ESO said early contracts for the telescope have already been placed. A contract was signed to start a detailed design study for the M4 adaptive mirror of the telescope. The organisation noted that getting the initial work off the ground was important. The M4 mirror is part of the E-ELT's adaptive optics system, which will correct the blurring effects generated both by turbulence in the atmosphere and the effects of wind on the telescope structure. Once installed, this deformable mirror will enable the E-ELT to reach the theoretical maximum resolution possible in its observations.
Researchers are also working on the detailed design for the route of the road to the summit of Cerro Armazones. Civil works, such as laying out the access road to the summit and levelling the summit, will start later this year.
'The E-ELT will keep ESO in a leading position for decades to come and lead to an extraordinary harvest of exciting science,' said Council President Xavier Barcons.
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Data Source Provider: European Southern Observatory (ESO)
Document Reference: Based on information from the European Southern Observatory (ESO)
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