Under the dome of the future (photo)

The European Southern Observatory has published several images taken in the middle of a giant construction site on top of the Chilean Cerro Armazones mountain. They show the progress made in the construction of the Extremely Large Telescope (VLT).

The construction site of the Extremely Large Telescope (ELT) as of August 2023. Source: ESO

The photos show impressive steel structures, which are already approaching 80 meters in height. This is the frame of a huge rotating dome. After the construction is completed, its mass will be 6,100 tons. It will take 30 million bolts to fasten the entire structure.

The rotation of the dome will be provided by 36 trolleys placed on rails. This will provide the ELT with the opportunity to observe different areas of the sky. In the pictures from the construction site, you can also see a powerful foundation that will support the construction of the telescope. It took almost 9,000 cubic meters of concrete.

A 39-meter ELT main mirror consisting of 798 individual hexagonal segments with a total area of 978 m² and a weight of 132 tons will be placed inside the dome. It will be controlled in real time by a system of high-precision sensors providing constant optical alignment. Thanks to this, the observatory will be able to collect 100 million times more light than the human eye, and 13 times more light than the largest operating optical telescopes.

The construction site of the Extremely Large Telescope (ELT) as of August 2023. Source: G. Hüdepohl (atacamaphoto.com)/ESO

The design of the ELT also provides for the use of a fundamentally new adaptive optical technology, which is capable of correcting the distortion of images of celestial bodies introduced by the Earth’s atmosphere as qualitatively as possible. It is expected that the new observatory will directly photograph exoplanets, study their atmospheres, observe the birth of new planetary systems, and also help measure the acceleration of the expansion of the Universe. 

At the moment, the construction of the ELT is completed by more than 50%. Mirrors and other telescope components are already being built by European companies. All other systems needed to create an ELT, including the control system and equipment needed to assemble and test the telescope, are also in the manufacturing process. The new observatory is expected to see its “first light” in 2028.

According to https://www.eso.org

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