The first light from the European Extremely Large Telescope designed by the European Southern Observatory is due to take place in 2024, but much of the work on its optical technology has already started here in Durham.
Durham University’s Centre for Advanced Instrumentation is a leading partner in building what will be the world’s largest telescope located in the Atacama Desert in Chile.
The primary mirror, essentially the telescope’s ‘eye’, will be 39 metres in diameter. It is nearly four times larger than the ones in the current state-of-the-art telescopes, and gathers around 15 times more light.
The mirror and other parts are designed so the telescope can be actively reconfigured to capture light from distant stars and galaxies. This means the E-ELT will have unprecedented ability to discover the origins and nature of the universe and to image directly planets in other solar systems.
Through leading a project called CANARY which prototypes novel optical technologies, CFAI has demonstrated two wholly new forms of adaptive optics that are required for the E-ELT. The advanced adaptive optics uses lasers (so called laser guide stars) is able to help correct the turbulent atmosphere and therefore, enables the telescope to capture exceptional image quality. Images of this kind can normally only be taken on much larger facilities in space.
“To be part of something that will enable the world to gain a much deeper insight into how the universe began and evolved is incredibly exciting for us at CFAI. It really is good to see that our years of experience and understanding of light and associated technologies can be used in such a groundbreaking way.”
Professor Richard Myers
Figure 1. This image illustrates the design of the future European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT). Notice the two human figures in the foreground. Note also the eight yellow vertical tubes, which are the launch telescopes for the eight laser guide stars. (Image courtesy of the European Southern Observatory).
Figure 2. The laser guide star systems of the CfAI/Paris Observatory CANARY instrument on the 4.2m diameter William Herchel Telescope, one of the Isaac Newton Telescopes of the Observatorio del Roque de les Muchachos, La Palma, Canary Islands Spain. There are actually four laser beams in a configuration designed to prototype the systems on the E-ELT. (Image by Andrew Reeves, Durham)