Construction of the world’s largest telescope advances

Isbel Lázaro.
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Inspenet, October 16, 2023.

Construction of the European Southern Observatory Extremely Large Telescope (ESO ELT) located in the Atacama Desert in Chile is progressing, as engineers and builders are making very rapid progress in assembling its dome structure.

The telescope mirrors and other elements are being manufactured in European companies, where work also flows significantly. The ELT will feature an innovative optical design composed of five mirrors, including a giant main mirror (M1) made up of 798 hexagonal segments.

This is how the construction of the Extremely Large Telescope is going

The manufacturing of more than 70% of the blanks and supports required for the mirror segments has already been completed. As for mirrors M2 and M3, they have been cast and are in the polishing process.

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Meanwhile, progress on the M4 mirror is particularly notable: its six thin petals are finished and incorporated into its structure. In addition, all six laser sources, essential for the ELT’s adaptive optics system, have been produced and delivered to ESO for testing.

The other components necessary to complete the ELT, such as the control system and the equipment required to assemble and operate the telescope, are progressing well in development or production. Likewise, the first four scientific instruments to be installed on the ELT are in the final design phase and some of them are about to begin manufacturing.

About project completion

Nine years ago, construction of the ELT began with a groundbreaking ceremony and in 2014, the top of Cerro Armazones was leveled to accommodate the large telescope.

However, completing the other half of the project is expected to be much faster than construction of the first half. This initial phase involved the laborious task of finalizing the design of most of the components intended for the ELT. Some elements, such as the mirror segments and their corresponding supporting components and sensors, required detailed prototyping and extensive testing before entering full-scale production.

It is important to mention that the Covid-19 pandemic affected construction, with the site closing for several months and delays in the production of many components. However, with production processes now fully restored and optimized, completion of the remaining half of the telescope is expected to take just five years.

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