The world’s largest optical and infrared telescope is being built in Chile that will help scientists understand the inner-workings of the universe. With a main mirror 39 metres in diameter, the Extremely Large Telescope (ELT) is being built by the European Southern Observatory (ESO). Unlike any other before it, ELT is also designed to be an adaptive telescope and has the ability to correct atmospheric turbulence, taking telescope engineering to another level. The future giant telescope set for completion in 2024 will be built on top of Cerro Armazones, a 3,046-metre peak mountain in Chile.
Oxford University scientists are playing a key role in the project, and are responsible for the design and construction of its spectrograph; ‘HARMONI’, an instrument designed to simultaneously take 4,000 images, each in a slightly different colour. The visible and near-infrared instrument will harness the telescope’s adaptive optics to provide extremely sharp images.
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‘HARMONI’ will enable scientists to form a more detailed picture of the formation and evolution of objects in the universe. This will support researchers to view everything from the planets in our own solar system and stars in our own and nearby galaxies with unprecedented depth and precision, to the formation and evolution of distant galaxies that have never been observed before.
“The ELT represents a big leap forward in capability, and that means that we will use it to find many interesting things about the universe that we have no knowledge of today,” said Niranjan Thatte, Principal Investigator for ‘HARMONI’ and Professor of Astrophysics at Oxford’s Department of Physics.
“It is the element of ‘exploring the unknown’ that most excites me about the ELT. It will be an engineering feat, and its sheer size and light grasp will dwarf all other telescopes that we have built to date,” said Thatte. “The ELT will produce discoveries that we simply cannot imagine today, and it will surely inspire numerous people around the world to think about science, technology and our place in the universe,” Tim DE Zeeuw, Director General of ESO, said. “This will bring great benefit to the ESO member states, to Chile, and to the rest of the world,” Zeeuw said.