The worlds largest telescope the Extremely Large Telescope (ELT) is under construction in Chile. When it captures its first light, sometime in 2027 or 2028, Irish adaptive optics technology will be there to ensure it sees further and with greater clarity than any telescope in human history.
The opportunity for Irish astronomers to take part in the ELT project arose when the government decided to join the European Southern Observatory (ESO) the top intergovernmental astronomy organisation in Europe in 2018. Membership cost 14.66 million, with an annual fee of 3.5 million.
A team of researchers at NUI Galway, led by Dr Nicholas Devaney, with expertise in adaptive optics are involved in the ELT project as part of a consortium also involving the Grenoble Institute for Planetary Sciences and Astrophysics and the National Institute of Astrophysics (INAF) in Italy.
The consortium will design and manage the construction of an instrument on the ELT, called multi-conjugate adaptive optics relay (MAORY), which corrects image distortion due to atmosphere blurring. The NUIG team were invited to join the MAORY project based on their scientific reputation.
The Galway team is responsible for the device we call the test unit that is needed to pass all the performance on this domain here in Europe and then also when we arrive on the mountains in Chile, says Paolo Ciliegi, an astronomer at INAF; the overall principal investigator of MAORY.
They put on the table their expertise in adaptive optics and also the construction of this test unit, Ciliegi adds.
The construction of the ELT at an altitude of some 10,000 feet on top of a mountain called Cerro Amazones has halted due to the Covid situation in Chile. The site is in the Atacama Desert, a high plateau covering an area slightly bigger than Ireland, and made up mostly of stones, salt and sand.
The altitude puts it above the cloud line, so there is very little precipitation, which can distort telescope images of space. That dryness this is the driest desert on the planet outside the poles make it an ideal location for astronomers to view the heavens. Yet the ELT must still peer up and out through about 480km of atmosphere, with the distortion that this brings.
When you feel the bumpiness in an airplane thats the atmospheric turbulence, says Devaney. The turbulent atmosphere, he says, is made up of bubbles of air with differing temperatures. The speed of light through air varies slightly with the temperature of the air through which it travels.
The net effect of this is to reduce the sharpness of images from space that a ground telescope can gather. That introduces distortions in the light which leads to a blurry image instead of a sharper image, he adds.
Adaptive optics technology works hard to overcome such atmospheric distortion. This task is akin to gathering light that has been bent and scattered in water and rebuilding it into its underformed original form. This is the job that the MAORY instrument will be performing for the ELT.
A limitation of adaptive optics technology up to now has been that it relies on a natural constellation of bright stars to sharpen distorted images from an optical telescope viewing a big area of sky, but such constellations are not always available. In order to get over this issue scientists use guide stars.
The ELT is going to generate six artificial laser-generated guide stars which will act like a natural constellation of six bright stars to facilitate adaptive optics to work wherever the ELT is pointing towards in the sky. It has proved a huge challenge over decades to get the lasers up to sufficient power to produce bright enough guide stars to facilitate adaptive optics.
After much research scientists decided to use a sodium wavelength for producing guide stars. This is because there is a natural layer of charged sodium ions in the Earths atmosphere at an altitude of 90km, which can be excited and energized by a laser so that it looks just like a natural star.
This is perfect for astronomers, says Devaney. Its like the ions were put out there specifically for that purpose. It means that it is possible to make constellations of artificial guide stars using the six lasers on the ELT.
An optical telescope works by gathering light through mirrors. The bigger its mirrors the more light the telescope can gather and the farther it can see. The main mirror of the ELT will be an enormous 39 metres ( 127.9ft), in diameter. Thats roughly equivalent to 21 men, six feet tall, lying head to toe.
The designers knew that technically it wasnt possible to construct the main mirror as one piece. They also knew that it would be difficult to carry large mirror segments to a mountain top. A decision was therefore made to separately make 798 hexagonal-shaped segments; each 1.5 metres wide weighing 250kg, which, when aligned carefully together, would make up the main ELT mirror.
The mirror segments had to be aligned with nano-metre precision, and that alignment has to be maintained as the telescope moves and tracks objects. There are some 9,000 tiny sensors arranged around each segment so that any kind of motion in one segment with respect to another is accounted for.
There are also actuators that bend the mirrors into optimum shape. The biggest optical telescopes today have three mirrors. The ELT will have five.
In return for Devaneys team working on the adaptive optics on the ELT his astronomer colleagues at NUIG are to be offered ELT observation time. One of those scientists hoping to use the ELT to advance his work is physicist Dr Matt Redman, director of the centre of astronomy at NUIG.
Redman is interested in planetary nebulae. These are badly named celestial objects as they have nothing to do with planets. They looked like planets when viewed by the first telescopes so thats how they got the name. They might better be described as the glowing shell of gas ejected from a dying star.
These nebulae are observed in a variety of shapes including butterfly-shaped, elliptical, spherical, ring-shaped, bi-polar, cylindrical and round.
The big mystery is that the Sun is round, spherical and will turn into one of these objects, and these objects are not round and spherical, says Redman. The most likely idea is a companion star, or even a companion planet, disturbing the material as the dying star throws it off, he explains.
I am hoping the MAORY will be able to get right into the centre of these objects and we might even see that shaping mechanism happening, he adds.
There are some who question the economic and scientific logic of building expensive telescopes on the top of Chilean mountains in order to see through atmospheric distortion when it is possible to put a space telescope, like the Hubble telescope, into orbit up where atmospheric distortion is not a factor.
The justification lies in the cost of getting telescopes into orbit against building them on Earth. The Hubble Space Telescope, which had a primary mirror 2.4metres wide, cost 2.5 billion (today equivalent) to get into orbit and operational. The ELT will cost some 1.3 billion; about half the price.
This point of view holds that although they do different things, ground-based telescopes like ELT give more scientific bang for your buck than space telescopes. The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), set to launch in November, will cost 8.2 billion.
The ELT sees farther, clearer. You are able to collect a lot more, like with a 39-metre mirror, says Devaney. You are able to see further away and see things that are much fainter, such as really faint galaxies. The ELT will be able to see things that are fainter than was possible with the Hubble.
The huge jump in astronomical capability that the ELT will provide is likely to trigger a round of unexpected scientific findings that will change our understanding of the Universe and how it was formed in its earliest days.
Weve seen it before. For example, in 1998 data from the Hubble led scientists to conclude the universe was expanding at an ever accelerating rate. Each time there is a big step forward like this it leads to a huge mushrooming of astronomical activities and discoveries, says Devaney.
- Planetary conjunction: Mars, Venus, Moon set to align on July 12-13 - Hindustan Times - July 12th, 2021
- Venus, Mars and crescent moon to align in 'planetary conjunction' during 12-13 July - Firstpost - July 12th, 2021
- Stars and Galaxies . Seeing Some Cosmic X-Ray Emitters Might Be a Matter of Perspective - Jet Propulsion Laboratory - July 12th, 2021
- Researchers Discover Orbital Patterns of Trans-Neptunian Objects Vary Based on Their Color - SciTechDaily - July 12th, 2021
- Taught skills needed for the space sector the space sector - Open Access Government - July 12th, 2021
- NASA will attempt a 'risky' maneuver to fix its broken Hubble Space Telescope as early as next week - Business Insider - July 12th, 2021
- Astronomical Telescope Market Consumption Analysis, Business Overview and Upcoming Trends|Celestron, Meade, Vixen Optics, TAKAHASHI, ASTRO-PHYSICS,... - June 15th, 2021
- Astrophysicists Surprised by Unexpected Effect of Black Holes Beyond Their Own Galaxies - SciTechDaily - June 15th, 2021
- Postdoctoral Research Associate, Department of Physics job with DURHAM UNIVERSITY | 257296 - Times Higher Education (THE) - June 15th, 2021
- Enormous strands of galaxies in the cosmic web appear to be spinning - New Scientist News - June 15th, 2021
- CU the site of one of the last government-commissioned reports on UFOs. What does it say? - CU Boulder Today - June 15th, 2021
- Saint Bernard's track and field athlete, Eagle Scout to study astrophysics at Villanova - theday.com - June 15th, 2021
- Looking at the stars, or falling by the wayside? How astronomy is failing female scientists - Space.com - June 15th, 2021
- Astronomy Professor Develops Innovative Medical Imaging Device - The College Today - June 15th, 2021
- Making space commonplace: U of T startup works with NASA on low-cost exoplanet research - News@UofT - June 15th, 2021
- UW astronomer redefines the scientific hero as part of The Great Courses - UW News - June 15th, 2021
- Security Inspection Equipment Market Share by Manufacturer (Astrophysics, Smiths Detection, Garrett, CEIA, Rapiscan Systems) COVID-19 Impact and... - June 15th, 2021
- Exoplanets And Icy Moons Among Major Themes Of European Space - Forbes - June 15th, 2021
- Reflection Telescope Market Statistics, Facts, Key Players and Forecast by 2026 | Celestron, Meade, Vixen Optics, TAKAHASHI, ASTRO-PHYSICS KSU | The... - February 10th, 2021
- Comments on: Puzzling Astrophysics of Quasars in the Early Universe - SciTechDaily - February 10th, 2021
- Student astronomer finds galactic missing matter - News - The University of Sydney - February 10th, 2021
- Program Director, Moore Experimental Physics Investigator Initiative in Palo Alto , CA for Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation - Physics - February 10th, 2021
- The Woman Who Knew The Stars - ZME Science - February 10th, 2021
- Cosmos mapping project tied to YSU | News, Sports, Jobs - Youngstown Vindicator - February 10th, 2021
- Op-ed | Space weather bill will fizzle without funding - SpaceNews - February 10th, 2021
- How Andrei Linde Redefined the Universe - The Atlantic - February 10th, 2021
- 207's Best In Academic Achievement Named For February - Journal & Topics Newspapers Online - February 10th, 2021
- Life on Venus? The Picture Gets Cloudier - The New York Times - February 10th, 2021
- St. Mary's College Board of Trustees Approves Academic Program Changes for Fall 2021 - The Southern Maryland Chronicle - February 10th, 2021
- Widespread Report on the Global Refracting Telescope Market 2020-2028 with the Leading Players Celestron, Vixen Optics, ASTRO-PHYSICS, ORION, Barska,... - September 8th, 2020
- UK Part of New NSF Physics Frontier Center Focused on Neutron Star Modeling in 'Gravitational Wave Era' - UKNow - September 8th, 2020
- University subject profile: physics - The Guardian - September 8th, 2020
- This triple star system warped the protoplanetary discs around it, new research says - CTV News - September 8th, 2020
- Scientists discover first 'intermediate-mass' black hole in massive merger - Big Think - September 8th, 2020
- Looking skin deep at the growth of neutron stars - Washington University in St. Louis Newsroom - September 8th, 2020
- Scientists detect massive galactic collision between black holes that "aren't supposed to exist" - Boing Boing - September 8th, 2020
- China's secretive 'space plane' makes successful return to Earth - CNET - September 8th, 2020
- New High-Res Images of The Sun Show How Creepy Sunspots Look in Closeup - ScienceAlert - September 6th, 2020
- The End of the Universe Will Probably Be Fairly Disappointing - WIRED - September 6th, 2020
- Zooming In Tight on Dark Matter Equivalent of Being Able to See a Flea on the Surface of the Moon - SciTechDaily - September 6th, 2020
- Indian astronomers discover one of the farthest star galaxies in universe - Livemint - September 6th, 2020
- Astronomers Spot a Black Hole so Massive They Werent Sure it Could Exist - Gizmodo Australia - September 6th, 2020
- Space discoveries that will blow your mind | News | helenair.com - Helena Independent Record - September 6th, 2020
- How neutrons and protons arrange themselves in the nucleus? - Tech Explorist - September 6th, 2020
- Warped gas disc torn apart by three stars directly observed for the first time - ZME Science - September 6th, 2020
- Kentucky by Heart: Many Kentuckians have made their mark in fields of science and technology - User-generated content - September 6th, 2020
- Q&A with Astrophysics Professor, Viktor Ambartsumian International Science Prize winner Adam Burrows - The Daily Princetonian - August 17th, 2020
- Astro Bob: Hubble helps solve the mystery of why Betelgeuse faded - Duluth News Tribune - August 17th, 2020
- The Alternative to Dark Matter May be General Relativity Itself - Astrobites - August 17th, 2020
- This is the way the universe ends: not with a whimper, but a bang - Science Magazine - August 17th, 2020
- The Week of August 17, 2020 - FYI: Science Policy News - August 17th, 2020
- Nearly $13 million in federal funding awarded to University of Rochester for Physics Frontier Center - WWTI - InformNNY.com - August 17th, 2020
- The Last Supernovae - Universe Today - August 17th, 2020
- Astronomers find Milky Way look-alike galaxy 12 billion light-years away - BusinessLine - August 17th, 2020
- Dark Matter Breakthrough Allows Probing Three of the Most Popular Theories, All at the Same Time - SciTechDaily - August 17th, 2020
- Exploding Black Dwarfs Could Be the 'Last Interesting Thing to Happen in the Universe' - Gizmodo UK - August 17th, 2020
- Security Inspection Equipment Market is slated to grow rapidly in the coming years Astrophysics, Smiths Detection, Garrett, C.E.I.A., Rapiscan Systems... - August 17th, 2020
- Lovely Professional Universitys Aerospace Engineering student wins international award - The Tribune India - August 17th, 2020
- Minecraft, Bollywood Dance, and Astrophysics Help College Students Connect With Kids Online - NBC Bay Area - August 10th, 2020
- UR #26: Improved Methods for Ground-Based Follow-Up of Young Stars and Planets from the ZEIT Survey - Astrobites - August 10th, 2020
- Investigating the far-flung reaches of the universe - Times Higher Education (THE) - August 10th, 2020
- Alien life bombshell: Scientist says we will find intelligent life 'within our lifetimes' - Daily Express - August 10th, 2020
- Space roar: NASA detected the loudest sound in the universe, but what is it? - Space.com - August 10th, 2020
- From exploring immigrant identities to treating cancer: U of T awarded 29 Canada Research Chairs - News@UofT - August 10th, 2020
- A deep, giant cloud disruption found on Venus - EarthSky - August 10th, 2020
- Astronomers Sink Their Teeth Into Special Supernova Exploding Stars Produce the Calcium in Our Bones and Teeth - SciTechDaily - August 10th, 2020
- Mysterious 'fast radio burst' detected closer to Earth than ever before - Live Science - August 10th, 2020
- Half of All the Calcium in the Universe: Unprecedented Observations Shine Light on a Dying Stars Final Moments - SciTechDaily - August 10th, 2020
- Rapid Changes Detected in a Black Hole May Explain Origin of the Most Energetic Radiation in the Universe - SciTechDaily - August 10th, 2020
- What is Astrophysics? | Space - August 10th, 2020
- Astrophysics - Wikipedia - August 10th, 2020
- NASA Astrophysics | Science Mission Directorate - August 10th, 2020
- Astro-Physics - Buy Telescopes - August 10th, 2020
- An Epic, Planet-Scale Wave Has Been Hiding in The Toxic Clouds of Venus For Decades - ScienceAlert - August 10th, 2020
- Beyond the Fermi Paradox V: What is the Aestivation Hypothesis? - Universe Today - August 10th, 2020
- 'Roaming reactions' study to shed new light on atmospheric molecules - UNSW Newsroom - August 10th, 2020
- From the Italian Renaissance to the stars: an exciting approach to fulfilling GEs > News > USC Dornsife - USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts... - August 8th, 2020
- This Is How It All Ends - The New York Times - August 8th, 2020
- Ben Collins The Stig Top Gear | Surrey - Surrey Life - August 8th, 2020
- Mega Science On The Cover: Class XI Maharashtra Physics Text Shows Gravitational-Wave Detection By LIGO - Swarajya - August 8th, 2020