Once construction is completed on the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT), it should more than live up to its name. But the telescope promises to offer much more than just size, as it has the potential to go above and beyond what the Hubble Space Telescope currently offers.
The E-ELT is located atop a nearly 10,000-foot-tall mountain in Chile’s Atacama desert, and while it won’t be ready for use until construction is completed in 2024, scientists are already excited about what it could accomplish once it becomes operational. With Chilean President Michelle Bachelet having inaugurated the European Extremely Large Telescope’s construction on Friday, work has officially begun on this ambitious project. But what’s in it for astronomers once the telescope is ready?
According to a report from the International Business Times, the E-ELT should turn out to be five times bigger than other giant-sized telescopes currently in existence, and that could mean a fundamental change in how we see the universe. Specifically, this could mean using the telescope, whose primary mirror measures about 128 feet (39 meters) across, to search for exoplanets orbiting their parent stars, and add to those discoveries by spotting planets that may be too small for Hubble and other telescopes to view.
The IBTimes report adds that the European Extremely Large Telescope can also image larger planets and pull information regarding their atmosphere. This could be key in helping scientists in the search for planets that may contain the ingredients of life and therefore be habitable. Whether this also means helping in the search for alien life is still unknown at this point in the game, but the potential may be there, considering the telescope’s capabilities.
— ESO (@ESO) May 26, 2017
The European Southern Observatory (ESO) added in its official press release for the E-ELT that it could be vital in helping astronomers determine how certain galaxies formed and evolved through millions of years.
“The E-ELT will vastly advance astrophysical knowledge by enabling detailed studies of planets around other stars, the first galaxies in the Universe, super-massive black holes, and the nature of the Universe’s dark sector.”
A separate report from phys.org also looked at one of the European Extremely Large Telescope’s most important features — an instrument dubbed as HARMONI. This feature allows the telescope to snap up to 4,000 images at the same time, with each photo having subtle differences in color. HARMONI, together with the telescope’s adaptive optics features, could result in photos 16 times sharper than what the Hubble Space Telescope is capable of. The E-ELT is also expected to generate 13 times more light than the biggest telescopes currently in use.
Construction began in Chile on Friday on the European Extremely Large Telescope, which when completed will be the… https://t.co/AwZknSa5jG
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As quoted by phys.org, HARMONI principal investigator Niranjan Thatte played it coy, not mentioning anything about alien life searches, but stressing that the E-ELT is a “big leap forward in capability, ” and capable of guiding astronomers and other scientists through the unknown.
“For me, 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. 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.”
The European Extremely Large Telescope is truly shaping up to be an impressive beast even as construction is just beginning. It’s not sure how much it would cost for construction to be completed over the seven years between now and its launch date, but Reuters (via Business Insider) quoted an ESO representative, who said that the E-ELT may cost about a billion euros ($1.12 billion USD) for the project to be completed.
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