Green light for construction of the world’s largest telescope

Now that the decision has been taken to start work on building the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT) in 2015, astronomers at Aarhus University have come a step closer to their dream of closely studying atmospheres on planets in other solar systems.

2014.12.05 | Christina Troelsen

Drawing of the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT) in the dome-shaped building. With a 39-metre aperture, the E-ELT will be able to capture both visible and infrared light. It will be built on Cerro Armazones, a mountain in the Chilean Atacama Desert, 20 kilometres from ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) on Cerro Paranal. The new telescope will be the world’s largest ‘eye on the sky’. Source: ESO/L. Calça

The European Southern Observatory (ESO) has just decided to begin construction of the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT) on 1 January 2015. This marks the first stage of building the world’s largest telescope – with Danish participation. Aarhus University, the University of Copenhagen and DTU Space are investing a total of DKK 37 million in the telescope.

The E-ELT can capture both visible and infrared light. With a 39-metre aperture, it will be built on Cerro Armazones, a mountain in the Chilean Atacama Desert, 20 kilometres from ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) on Cerro Paranal. It will be the world’s largest ‘eye on the sky’.

“It’s a huge step forward for European astronomy and an historic moment in which Europe once again takes the lead for the first time since the early 1900s, and takes responsibility for global development in astronomical research,” says astronomer Uffe Gråe Jørgensen. He is head of the Astrophysics and Planetary Science Group at the Niels Bohr Institute, University of Copenhagen, and the Danish member of the ESO Council.

The new telescope will enable researchers to make new scientific discoveries in the areas of exoplanets (planets orbiting stars other than the Sun) and the composition of stars in both near galaxies and distant parts of the universe.

Fantastic news for Danish and European astronomy

“This is fantastic news for Danish and European astronomy. The E-ELT is a flagship for space exploration, and the areas of astrophysics boosted by the telescope are absolutely central to Danish research in this field. The two study areas mentioned above – exoplanets and the most distant (first) galaxies in the universe – are particularly active research fields in Denmark. This is also extremely good news for the Danish universities that have chosen to invest considerable amounts in Danish participation in the project. The project is now up and running, and we can finally see our dreams starting to come true,” says a very pleased Professor Johan Fynbo, Dark Cosmology Centre, Niels Bohr Institute, University of Copenhagen.

We might find life out there

Professor of Observational Asteroseismology and Exoplanet Studies Hans Kjeldsen, Stellar Astrophysics Centre, Aarhus University, is equally enthusiastic. “We’re really getting value for money with the E-ELT. We’re especially interested in opportunities to analyse the atmospheric composition of the Earth-like exoplanets. If we also find that there are bioindicators such as oxygen molecules, it would be a clear indication that there’s life as we know it on an exoplanet,” he says.

Read the entire media release from the University of Copenhagen and Aarhus University.

Contacts at Aarhus University

Professor Hans Kjeldsen
Department of Physics and Astronomy and Stellar Astrophysics Centre
Aarhus University
+45 2338 2160
hans@phys.au.dk

Communications Officer Ole J. Knudsen
Department of Physics and Astronomy and Stellar Astrophysics Centre
Aarhus University
+45 8715 5597
ojk@phys.au.dk

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