UK to begin work on world’s largest telescope

The telescope will probe the furthest reaches of the cosmos.


Follow us onFollow Tech Explorist on Google News

The UK Astronomy Technology Centre (UK ATC) engineers are gearing up to produce the inaugural instrument for the world-renowned Extremely Large Telescope (ELT). This colossal optical telescope, akin in size to the Roman Colosseum, is currently taking shape in the heart of the Atacama Desert in Chile. 

Owned by the European Southern Observatory (ESO), the ELT’s construction milestone was announced this week, marking the commencement of the first scientific instrument production at various locations, including the UK ATC operated by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC).

The Extremely Large Telescope (ELT) represents a monumental leap forward in scientific exploration, aiming to delve into the farthest corners of the universe. Its mission is to address fundamental questions such as the existence of Earth-like planets around distant stars, the potential for life beyond our solar system, and the formation and evolution of the earliest galaxies. 

This groundbreaking endeavor will involve a range of sophisticated scientific instruments designed to capture diverse signals from space, providing a comprehensive view of the Universe.

The Mid-infrared ELT Imager and Spectrograph (METIS) has achieved a significant milestone by passing its final design review, positioning it as the first instrument to be manufactured in preparation for the commencement of scientific operations in 2028.

METIS, an essential component of ELT, will investigate planet-forming gas and dust discs to gain crucial insights into galaxy formation and evolution.

METIS can capture mid-infrared light signals from space, offering numerous advantages to ELT astronomers. Unlike visible light, mid-infrared light can penetrate dust particles in planet-forming discs, allowing for comprehensive study.

Moreover, METIS is well-suited for detecting colder objects, such as planets, which predominantly emit light in the mid-infrared spectrum. This positions METIS to play a significant role in the quest for habitable worlds.

“We are living in a golden age for astronomy that is the result of widespread collaboration across borders and the technological leaps that this enables,” Professor Gillian Wright, Director at the STFC UK ATC, said. “The METIS instrument will be invaluable to ensure that the ELT can look more precisely than ever before at mid-infrared light, in a bid to change our understanding of our place in the Universe.”

METIS is a cutting-edge instrument designed and manufactured by the international METIS Consortium, comprising over 10 world-leading astronomical research institutes.

In its role within the consortium, UK ATC is leveraging its technical expertise from developing the Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI) for the James Webb Space Telescope to deliver METIS’ advanced infrared spectrometer.

This groundbreaking instrument will surpass MIRI’s capabilities, offering a spectral resolution 30 times higher and a spatial resolution 6 times greater. These advancements will unlock new opportunities for studying star and planet formation.

ESO stands as an international consortium that unites 16 member states to develop, construct, and manage the most advanced ground-based observatories globally. Its mission also includes nurturing international collaboration in the field of astronomy. The UK, represented by STFC, serves as the second largest financial supporter of ESO and offers a diverse range of expertise and services through institutions like UK ATC to bolster its scientific endeavors.


See stories of the future in your inbox each morning.