June 21, 2024

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The world's most powerful telescope will point to the sky to search for habitable planets

The world's most powerful telescope will point to the sky to search for habitable planets

At the beginning of January 1610, Galileo Galilei made history When he finished improving his version of the telescope.

Using the new device, he was able to see spots on the surface of the sun Different altitudes on the moon's surface, the four largest satellites of Jupiter and even the phases of Venus. Thus a revolution occurred in astronomy.

Today, more than 400 years after that achievement, on a Chilean hilltop, under clear, star-filled skies like few other places, the European Southern Observatory (ESO) is building the European Southern Observatory. Infrared optical telescope The largest in the world.

Using a mirror with a diameter of 39 metres, you can achieve the same effect: change everything.

The strong dome of the ELT telescope is anti-seismic and has special protection to withstand the climate of the region. Photo: ISO.

that (Very large telescope/Very Large Telescope), during operation, It will help astronomers see what they have never seen before And find answers to questions that humanity has been asking since the beginning of time.

Luis Chavarria, an astronomer and representative of ESO (an intergovernmental organization bringing together the efforts of 16 countries) in Chile, says: He lives Details of its amazing location.

“The construction of this infrastructure takes almost a decade and was not easy due to factors such as the pandemic. Despite everything, we have already exceeded 50 percent of what was planned. This landmark fills us with energy because now we can see the impressive design of its dome. Besides , The first parts of the main mirror have already reached their destination. Our entire team works 100 percent to meet deadlines and achieve our goal. We are confident that at the end of this decade, ELT will see its first light.

Chavarria highlights the efforts to make the 3,046-metre-high project a reality, At the top of the Armazones hillAnd he raises a block whose dome weighs 6,100 tons:

“What amazes me most is that today we can achieve the precision necessary to build this machine. He can Pushing the capacity for engineering and technological innovation to the limits For companies and institutions involved in its design and construction.

Assembling ELT's Polaris platform, which will be used to study dark matter in the universe. Photo: Agence France-Presse.

“Yes, the ELT will address the major scientific challenges of our time in astronomy. We expect unprecedented discoveries in this field. We will be able to explore the 'habitable zones' (where life could exist) and Finding planets similar to Earth. It is incredible to personally experience the initial part of the search for the first habitable planets.

The telescope, moreover, You will be able to do astral archeology in nearby galaxies and will contribute significantly to cosmology.

“We want to measure the properties of the first stars and galaxies, and analyze the nature of dark matter and energy. Of course, there is also the factor of the unknown. We are preparing to confront the unexpected: new and Awesome questions Which will arise from data collected with ELT. We believe this telescope could revolutionize our perception of the universe, just as Galileo did 400 years ago.

It is a giant telescope A new era in astronomical observation and understanding. These are its main features:

1. Mega Mirror.

Its mirror is 39 meters in diameter, and is roughly half the length of a football field. Perfect for Observe the visible horizon Also known as near infrared radiation. That is, it will cover a wide range.

Its size will allow taking pictures of rocky exoplanets and characterizing their atmospheres.

You can also measure directly, The expansion of the universe accelerated. It will also have more than 5,000 Motors (the main parts of telescopes) that will be able to change the shape of their mirrors a thousand times per second.

2. High in the sky

The European Southern Observatory (ESO) Council selected Cerro Armazons as the installation site. It's no coincidence. Armazones is located in the Chilean Atacama DesertIt is over 3,000 meters high and is located about 20 kilometers from Cerro Paranal, home of the Very Large Telescope (VLT), another exceptional astronomy site. The place is the right place, not only because of its nature, but because it also ensures constant protection against light pollution and mining activities there.

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The ELT will be on top of Mount Armazones, more than 3,000 meters above sea level. Photo: ISO.

3. Long life.

It is expected that ELT will be in use for at least 30 years. This is the typical useful life for an installation of these dimensions and means, as in the case of VLT, Periodic maintenance and a program for the sustainable development of new tools.

As background, it is known that the La Silla Observatory, also from ESO, turned 50 years old in 2019 and is still operating with good results.

4. Increase employment.

The size of the telescope is important for two reasons: First The amount of light it can capture The other is the level of detail you can see. The ELT will collect 15 times more light than the largest optical telescopes in operation today. It will also allow you to see images 15 times clearer than those of the Hubble Space Telescope.

5. Against tremors.

The quantification of seismic risk on the Chilean hill was painstakingly analyzed to decide on the installation of ELT. Two peer-reviewed studies were commissioned Three independent teams From the experts.

In addition to those investigations, four contractors have developed options to seismically isolate the telescope and its dome.

6. Good atmosphere.

May treat ELT The biggest scientific mysteries of our time Thanks to tools that will allow him to collect an amount of light greater than the sum of all the large telescopes today on Earth.

This tremendous power is the key to Analysis of exoplanet atmospheres That I can recognize.

When he finds them, he will proceed to deconstruct them. In addition, through teams such as Harmony, Mets and Andes, you will study black holes, galaxies, dark matter and stars.

7. Beyond the horizon.

The telescope will implement a scientific program to explore the formation and The evolution of galaxies in the distant universe. It will allow us to look beyond current horizons and discover the physical processes that shape and transform them over time.

In addition, it will reveal the crucial early stages of… Formation of galaxiesat the end of the Dark Ages, after the Big Bang.

8. Rain of Dollars.

The construction of the telescope has been approved by ESO With a budget of 1.5 billion dollars. One of its foundations stated: “We want to make it the strongest in the world.” Thus, it took the lead in building these huge projects and overtook the United States.

This billion-dollar project also hopes to install a solar power plant that will produce power during the day Cooling of the telescope in the closed dome. Something vital to keep it in good condition.

9. Survival in the desert.

Its giant dome, which will reach a height of 80 meters, will house the telescope and Its internal structure. This will be key to protecting them from the harsh environment of the Atacama Desert.

Its upper part will rotate to allow the telescope to point in any direction Large observation hole. Its housing will be covered with an aluminum layer with thermal insulation.

10. Unexpected results.

Many telescope discoveries before the ELT were unexpected. For example, the Hubble Space Telescope is famous His amazing observations “Deep fields” of galaxies, such as the Hubble Deep Field.

But he observed a small patch of sky and detected about 3,000 objects at most Young and distant galaxiesIt was not one of the initial goals of the project. It was a surprise.

Observatory the chairknown, among other attributes, for its revolutionary discoveries of exoplanets, was first commissioned in 1977, in At the time when exoplanets were completely unknown. He was surprised that he was able to find them.

“I hope that with ELT we can understand What is our place in the universe? “In concrete terms, we may answer whether we are alone or not,” said Amina Helmy, an ESO council member and senior lecturer at the Kaptein Astronomical Institute in the Netherlands.

A lot is expected from ELT. Hope is great too.