5 November 2008

Denmark part of the world’s largest telescope project

A telescope, which will be the world’s biggest and that will be able to see the weakest stars in the most distant universe, is a new gigantic project under the European Organisation for Astronomical Research in the Southern Hemisphere, ESO. The Niels Bohr Institute at the University of Copenhagen is participating in the project and is taking part in the development of an instrument for the telescope, which will be astronomy’s answer to CERN.

The telescope will consist of a number of mirrors, which adjust as if it were a single giant mirror 42 meters in diameter. That is five times as large a mirror diameter and 25 times as large a mirror area as the current largest mirrors on the Very Large Telescope, VLT in Chile. The telescope, which will be the world’s largest, is also called E-ELT, which stands for European Extremely Large Telescope.

“To be part of such a project means that we are on the forefront of instrument development and it also means that we are defining the scientific research to be focused on”, explains astronomer at the Niels Bohr Institute, Per Kjærgaard Rasmussen, who is the leader of the Danish team that is developing and building a special instrument, a spectrograph, which will go into the telescope.

The astronomers dream
While normal spectrographs measure one object at a time, the new spectrograph will be able to measure up to 300 objects at one time in a field. The telescope will be so sensitive that it can fulfill the astronomer’s dream of being able to take direct images of planets in other solar systems in the Milky Way and study the very first stars and galaxies to be created in the universe 13 billion years ago.

The spectrograph is being developed in cooperation between France, Holland, Italy, Denmark, Germany, and England. The first step in the big project has just gotten underway and the preliminary studies will be finished in January 2010. The telescope project is espected to be finally approved in the summer 2010 and when the precise project is developed, the final telescope and the spectrograph will be finished in the year 2018.

It is the largest earth based astronomy project within the next 20 years and it will cost a billion euro, but the financing is not completely in place yet. Neither has it been decided where the telescope will be placed, “but it will probably be in South America, possibly Chile, because there are good atmospheric conditions here and a large number of clear nights”, explains Per Kjærgaard Rasmussen.

See more photos: www.eso.org/gallery/v/ESOPIA/EELT