European Extremely Large Telescope
|European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT)|
Image Credit: ESO
|Location||Cerro Armazones, Chile, near Paranal Observatory|
|Weather||89% clear fraction, 0.67″ median seeing at 500nm|
|Wavelength||Visible, near infrared|
|Built||Construction start: July 2014
Planned completion: 2022
First light: 2024
|Diameter||39.3 m (129 ft)|
|Secondary dia.||4.0906 m (13.4 ft):124|
|Tertiary dia.||3.75 m (12.3 ft):134|
|Angular resolution||0.001 to 0.65 arcseconds depending on instrument|
|Collecting area||978 m2|
|Focal length||34.5 m (f/0.88) primary:94
420–840 m (f/10 – f/20) final
The European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT) is a ground-based extremely large telescope for the optical/near-infrared range, currently being built by the European Southern Observatory (ESO) on top of Cerro Armazones in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile. The design comprises a reflecting telescope with a 39.3 metre diameter segmented primary mirror, a 4.2 metre diameter secondary mirror, and will be supported by adaptive optics and multiple instruments. It is expected to allow astronomers to probe the earliest stages of the formation of planetary systems and to detect water and organic molecules in proto-planetary discs around stars in the making.
On 11 June 2012, the ESO Council approved the E-ELT programme's plans to begin construction of the telescope, pending agreement with the governments of some member states. Construction work on the E-ELT site started in June 2014.
On 26 April 2010, the European Southern Observatory (ESO) Council selected Cerro Armazones, Chile, as the baseline site for the planned E-ELT. Other sites that were under discussion included Cerro Macon, Salta, in Argentina; Roque de los Muchachos Observatory, on the Canary Islands; and sites in South Africa, Morocco, and Antarctica.
Early designs included a segmented primary mirror with a diameter of 42 metres and area of about 1,300 m2, with a secondary mirror with a diameter of 5.9 m. However, in 2011 a proposal was put forward to reduce its size by 13% to 978 m2, for a 39.3 m diameter primary mirror and a 4.2 m diameter secondary mirror. It reduced projected costs from 1.275 billion to 1.055 billion euros and should allow the telescope to be finished sooner. The smaller secondary is a particularly important change; 4.2 m places it within the capabilities of multiple manufacturers, and the lighter mirror unit avoids the need for high-strength materials in the secondary mirror support spider.:15
ESO's Director General commented in a 2011 press release that "With the new E-ELT design we can still satisfy the bold science goals and also ensure that the construction can be completed in only 10–11 years." The ESO Council endorsed the revised baseline design in June 2011 and expected a construction proposal for approval in December 2011. Funding was subsequently included in the 2012 budget for initial work to begin in early 2012. The project received preliminary approval in June 2012, with full funding still needing to be worked out.
The design phase of the 5-mirror anastigmat was fully funded within the ESO budget. With the recent changes in the baseline design (such as a reduction in the size of the primary mirror from 42 m to 39.3 m), the construction cost is estimated to be €1.055 billion (including first generation instruments). The start of operations is planned for the mid-2020s.
Goals and planning
The ESO focused on the current design after a feasibility study concluded the proposed 100 metres (330 ft) diameter Overwhelmingly Large Telescope would cost €1.5 billion (£1 billion), and be too complex. Current fabrication technology limits single mirrors to being roughly 8 metres (26 ft) in a single piece. The next-largest telescopes currently in use are the Keck Telescopes, the Gran Telescopio Canarias and the Southern African Large Telescope, which each use hexagonal mirrors fitted together to make a mirror more than 10 metres (33 ft) across. The E-ELT will use a similar design, as well as techniques to work around atmospheric distortion of incoming light, known as adaptive optics.
A 40m-class mirror will allow the study of the atmospheres of extrasolar planets. The E-ELT is the highest priority in the European planning activities for research infrastructures, such as the Astronet Science Vision and Infrastructure Roadmap and the ESFRI Roadmap. The telescope underwent a Phase B study in the past couple of years that included "contracts with industry to design and manufacture prototypes of key elements like the primary mirror segments, the adaptive fourth mirror or the mechanical structure (...) [and] concept studies for eight instruments.”
The telescope's "eye" will be 39.3 meters in diameter and will gather 15 times more light than the largest optical telescopes operating at the time of its development. The telescope has an innovative five-mirror design that includes advanced adaptive optics to correct for the turbulent atmosphere, giving exceptional image quality.
The primary mirror for the 39.3 metre design will be composed of 798 hexagonal segments, each 1.45 meters across but only 50 mm thick. A special correcting mirror in the telescope will be supported by more than 6,000 actuators that can distort its shape a thousand times per second. The telescope main structure will weigh about 2,800 tons.
The E-ELT will search for extrasolar planets — planets orbiting other stars. This will include not only the discovery of planets down to Earth-like masses through indirect measurements of the wobbling motion of stars perturbed by the planets that orbit them, but also the direct imaging of larger planets and possibly even the characterisation of their atmospheres. The telescope will attempt to image Earthlike exoplanets, which may be possible.
Furthermore, the E-ELT's suite of instruments will allow astronomers to probe the earliest stages of the formation of planetary systems and to detect water and organic molecules in protoplanetary discs around stars in the making. Thus, the E-ELT will answer fundamental questions regarding planet formation and evolution and will bring us one step closer to answering the biggest question in human history: are we alone?
By probing the most distant objects the E-ELT will provide clues to understanding the formation of the first objects that formed: primordial stars, primordial galaxies and black holes and their relationships. Studies of extreme objects like black holes will benefit from the power of the E-ELT to gain more insight into time-dependent phenomena linked with the various processes at play around compact objects.
The E-ELT is designed to make detailed studies of the first galaxies and to follow their evolution through cosmic time. Observations of these early galaxies with the E-ELT will give clues that will help understand how these objects form and evolve. In addition, the E-ELT will be a unique tool for making an inventory of the changing content of the various elements in the Universe with time, and to understand star formation history in galaxies.
One of the goals of the E-ELT is the possibility of making a direct measurement of the acceleration of the Universe's expansion. Such a measurement would have a major impact on our understanding of the Universe. The E-ELT will also search for possible variations in the fundamental physical constants with time. An unambiguous detection of such variations would have far-reaching consequences for our comprehension of the general laws of physics.
The telescope will have several science instruments. It will be possible to switch from one instrument to another within minutes. The telescope and dome will also be able to change positions on the sky and start a new observation in a very short time.
Eight different instrument concepts and two post-focal adaptive modules are currently being studied, with the aim that two to three will be ready for first light, with the others becoming available at various points over the following decade. The instruments being studied are:
- CODEX: a narrow-field, R=135 000 optical spectrograph
- EAGLE: a wide-field, multi-channel integral-field near-infrared (NIR) spectrograph, with multi-object adaptive optics
- EPICS: a optical/NIR planet imager and spectrograph with extreme adaptive optics
- HARMONI: a single field, wide-band integral field spectrograph
- METIS: a mid-infrared imager and spectrograph
- MICADO: a diffraction-limited near-infrared camera
- OPTIMOS: a wide-field visual multi-object spectrograph
- SIMPLE: a high-spectral-resolution NIR spectrograph
The two post-focal adaptive optics modules currently being studied are:
One of the largest ground-based telescope operating today is the Gran Telescopio Canarias, with a 10.4 m aperture and a light-collecting area of 74 m2. Other planned extremely large telescopes include, the 25 m/368 m2 Giant Magellan Telescope and 30 m/655 m2 Thirty Meter Telescope, which are also targeting the end of this decade or beginning of the next for completion. These other two telescopes roughly belong to the same next generation of optical ground-based telescopes. Each design is much larger than previous telescopes. Even with the descale to 39.3 m it is significantly larger than these other planned observatories; it is the largest of the planned new generation extremely large telescopes. It has the aim of observing the Universe in greater detail than the Hubble Space Telescope by taking images 15 times sharper, although it is designed to be complementary to space telescopes, which typically have very limited time available.
|Name||Aperture diameter (m)||Collecting area (m²)|
|Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT)||30||655|
|Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT)||24.5||368|
|Southern African Large Telescope (SALT)||11.1 × 9.8||79|
|Gran Telescopio Canarias (GTC)||10.4||74|
The 4.2 meter secondary mirror is the same size as the primary mirror on the William Herschel Telescope, the second largest optical telescope in Europe.
The images below show artistic renderings of the E-ELT and were produced by ESO.
Diagram of the 40m-class E-ELT primary mirror.
E-ELT compared with one of the four existing VLT Unit Telescopes at Cerro Paranal, Chile
Artist's impression of the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT) in its enclosure on Cerro Armazones during night-time observations. The four beams shooting skywards are lasers that create artificial stars high in the Earth’s atmosphere.
This video shows an artist's impression of the European Extremely Large Telescope, the E-ELT. The protective dome is seen opening for a night observing the optical and infrared skies.
An 3D view of the new road to Cerro Armazones area in the Chilean desert. The road extends from the public Route B-710 to the top of the mountain where the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT) will sit.
On 19 June 2014, a major milestone towards construction of the E-ELT was reached. Part of Cerro Armazones was blasted. This video provides a closer look at the event. Note that only natural sound is provided.
Numerous construction workers using heavy machinery working in the Atacama Desert to flatten the top of the mountain for a platform large enough to host the E-ELT with its main mirror of 39.2-metres in diameter.
- Thirty Meter Telescope (planned)
- Giant Magellan Telescope (planned)
- Overwhelmingly Large Telescope (retired plan)
- List of optical telescopes and List of largest optical reflecting telescopes
- Large Binocular Telescope (2 x 8.2 m aperture, equivalent to 11.8m)
- Gran Telescopio Canarias (10.4 m aperture)
- European Solar Telescope (planned completion in 2020)
- Llano de Chajnantor Observatory
- Paranal Observatory
- La Silla Observatory
- Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory
- Very Large Telescope
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