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 at NETPark 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.