The telescope that will be able to detect life outside our solar system in 2020
Yes, you read it right... and it's not science-fiction as its construction has already begun.
Before explaining how this over-sized telescope will be able to detect life, let's briefly talk about its history.
In December 2004, the ESO
Council decided to build very large telescopes (Extremely Large Telescopes), to make
Europe the leader in the field of astronomy. Quickly, a feasibility study was launched on a telescope with a mirror diameter of 100 meters, the
Overwhelmingly Large Telescope (OWL
In October 2005, the "Blue-Book OWL report
" confirms the technical feasibility of achieving such an observation instrument. But, rather, advise
to make smaller telescopes, with a diameter primary mirror of 30 to 60 meters, whereas the complexity and budgetary drift inherent in such companies
would be better controlled.
In December 2005, the project is entering a phase of consultation with the international astronomical community, to define the characteristics of the
telescope. Five groups are trained to study every aspect of the telescope (scientific interest, necessary tools, evaluation and highlighting possible
siting, design and study of the telescope and its adaptive optics). During the summer of 2006, reports of each group are given at ESO. These reports
advise that the ELT (European Extremely Large
) is able to observe in the visible and infrared.
This picture was taken at ESO’s Garching Headquarters during the historic Council meeting of 11–12 June 2012 when the E-ELT programme was
approved (subject to confirmation of the so-called ad referendum votes)
June 1, 2006, Dr. Jason Spyromilio is officially designated as Project Director of the E-ELT.
December 11, 2006, members of the ESO decided to launch studies prior to construction of the E-ELT. The expected diameter of the mirror is 39 meters,
for a total cost of the device estimated between 800 million and 1 billion €.
In March 2010, the selection committee recommended the Cerro Armazones, near Cerro Paranal, the site of this future télescope.
The Board of ESO, in April 26, 2010 has officially selected the site of Cerro Armazones.
October 16, 2011, an agreement was signed between Chile and ESO for the endowment of land and the creation of a protected area. The start of
construction is scheduled for 2011 and the first operations are planned for the beginning of the next decade. In June 11, 2012 the ESO Council
endorsed at its meeting in Garching, the construction of the ELT and its first batch of instruments. Construction of road and leveling to begin this
A new architectural concept drawing of ESO’s planned European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT) shows the telescope at work, with its dome open
and its record-setting 40-metre-class primary mirror pointed to the sky. In this illustration, clouds float over the valley overlooked by the
E-ELT’s summit. The comparatively tiny pickup truck parked at the base of the E-ELT helps to give a sense of the scale of this massive telescope.
The E-ELT dome will be similar in size to a football stadium, with a diameter at its base of over 100 m and a height of over 80 m.
How it works?
The primary mirror (M1) of the ELT use the technique of segmented mirror, which is to break it into several "small" mirrors. The ELT will consist thus
of 798 hexagonal elements of 1.45 m diameter. Assembled as those of the two Keck telescopes in Hawaii, they will reach a total area of 1116
square meters, 39.3 meters in diameter, with a mass of 150 tons.
The light received by the mirror M1 is returned to the mirror M2 (6 meters in diameter), then to the mirror M3 (4.2 meter diameter), the mirror M4
(2.5 meters diameter) and finally the mirror M6 (2.7 meters in diameter) that stabilizes the image and returns to the measuring instruments.
The E-ELT five mirrors principle
The telescope will have lasers that simulate artificial stars and used to correct the mirrors M1 and M4.
Due to the large mass of the telescope, the mirror M1 is supported by 30,000 iron segments that will correct in real time the forces due to bending
and deformation caused by the wind and the rotation of the mirror.
The mirror M4 ELT will also have adaptive optics: it will be able to correct in real time turbulence due to weather conditions. To do this, the mirror
will be placed on 7000 actuators that deform the mirror 1000 times per second.
Four segments of the giant primary mirror of the E-ELT undergoing testing together for the first time.
Exoplanets — Towards other Earths
With the E-ELT, for the first time in history, technology allows us to observe and to characterise exoplanets in habitable zones.
Artist's impression of the trio of super-Earths discovered by an European team using the HARPS spectrograph on ESO's 3.6-m telescope at La Silla,
Chile, after 5 years of monitoring. The three planets, having 4.2, 6.7, and 9.4 times the mass of the Earth, orbit the star HD 40307 with periods of
4.3, 9.6, and 20.4 days, respectively.
The first exoplanet orbiting a solar-type star (51 Pegasi) was discovered in 1995 by a European team. Since then, over 400 planetary companions
with masses ranging from a few Earth to several Jupiter masses have been found. Most exoplanets are detected indirectly by the radial velocity
technique, a method that detects planets by the “wobble” they produce on their parent star as they orbit it. However, such indirect detections
only allow us to infer very limited information about the planet itself, and very few direct observations of planets have been made.
The E-ELT will be able to obtain direct images
of some of these systems, including planets in the “habitable zones”, where a rocky planet
might hold liquid water on its surface.
edit on 12-12-2012 by elevenaugust because: (no reason given)
edit on 12-12-2012 by elevenaugust because: (no reason