The dome of the Extremely Large Telescope (ELT), with dimensions comparable to those of a skyscraper and which will reach a final weight of 6,100 tons, has begun to move with a precision unprecedented in the history of both astronomy and the great works of astronomy. engineering. This movement, at a speed of 1 centimeter per second in tests, marks a milestone in terms of precision and constitutes an achievement never seen before.
The structure, currently weighing 2,500 tons , is just one of the amazing elements that make up the telescope, projected to be the most monumental in the category of optical and infrared telescopes. However, several reasons suggest that this could be the last telescope of such magnitude built on Earth , surpassing the current mechanical limits of technology, according to experts.
About the Extremely Large Telescope (ELT)
Located in the Atacama desert landscape of Chile, the ELT represents a feat of engineering and science. Beyond the imposing dome, which will reach around 6,100 tons, the most notable feature of the ELT is its segmented primary mirror, with a diameter of 39.3 meters. This colossus composed of 798 hexagonal elements far surpasses existing ground-based optical telescopes. With a secondary mirror 4.2 meters in diameter, the ELT will not only be able to collect light on a scale 100 million times larger than human perception, but will also be 13 times more powerful than the largest optical telescopes in functioning currently.
The ELT, despite being limited by its anchorage on Earth due to the size of its mirror, surpasses the James Webb Space Telescope in terms of image sharpness by using adaptive optics systems that correct atmospheric distortion and allow its structure to be deformed. Through the use of eight laser guide star units, it will achieve five times greater precision, enabling unprecedented observation of the universe in visible light and part of the infrared spectrum in human history.
Unlike the Webb, focused on the infrared spectrum to study the early universe and distant galaxies, the ELT has as its main objective the search for planets in foreign star systems, the analysis of star and galaxy formation in the early universe and the direct measurement of the expansion of the cosmos. Engineers and astrophysicists anticipate that the ELT will play a critical role in revealing answers that currently remain inaccessible, including the possibility of detecting life on exoplanets.
Additionally, advances in optical interferometry could eventually make it possible for several smaller telescopes, both on the Earth’s surface and in space, to virtually collaborate to form a considerably larger telescope, thus eliminating the need for massive physical constructions. This area is still in the experimental phase, but thanks to the advancement of communications and artificial intelligence , it is increasingly close to becoming a reality. For the moment, there will be the ELT, whose completion is scheduled for 2028 . This project will be the pinnacle of astronomical engineering for decades and possibly represents the high point for the giants of celestial observation.
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Video: European Southern Observatory (ESO)