Extremely large telescope

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Comparison of nominal sizes of apertures of the above extremely large telescopes and some notable optical telescopes

An extremely large telescope (ELT) is an astronomical observatory featuring an optical telescope with an aperture for its primary mirror from 20 metres up to 100 metres across,[1] when discussing reflecting telescopes of optical wavelengths including ultraviolet (UV), visible, and near infrared wavelengths. Among many planned capabilities, extremely large telescopes are planned to increase the chance of finding Earth-like planets around other stars.[2] Telescopes for radio wavelengths can be much bigger physically, such as the 300 metres (330 yards) aperture fixed focus radio telescope of the Arecibo Observatory. Freely steerable radio telescopes with diameters up to 100 metres (110 yards) have been in operation since the 1970s.

These telescopes have a number of features in common, in particular the use of a segmented primary mirror (similar to the existing Keck telescopes), and the use of high-order adaptive optics systems.[3][4]

Although extremely large telescope designs are large, they can have smaller apertures than the aperture synthesis on many large optical interferometers. However, they may collect much more light, along with other advantages.

List of telescopes

# Image Name Aperture (m) Area (m²) Primary mirror Altitude (m) First
Notes Refs
5 Latest Rendering of the E-ELT.jpg Extremely Large Telescope
39.3 978 798 × 1.45 m
hexagonal (f/1)
3060 2024 Under construction: Cerro Armazones Obs., Chile [5][6][7]
4 Top view of tmt complex.jpg Thirty Meter Telescope
30 655 492 × 1.45 m
hexagonal (f/1)
4050 2027[8] On hold:[9] Mauna Kea Obs., Hawaii [3][10]
3 Giant Magellan Telescope - artist's concept.jpg Giant Magellan Telescope
24.5 368 7 × 8.4 m
circular (f/0.71)
2516 2023 Under construction: Las Campanas Obs., Chile;
4 mirrors cast (4/7 M1)
2 LBT 2.png Large Binocular Telescope
11.8 equiv area
22.8 equiv detail limit
111 2 × 8.4 m
3221 2008 largest non-segmented mirrors;
Located on Mount Graham in Arizona
1 Grantelescopio.jpg Gran Telescopio Canarias
10.4 74 36 × 1.9 m
2275 2008 Largest single mirror.
Located on Roque de los Muchachos Obs. in the Canary Islands
Note: Aperture of LBT: the baseline is obtained via aperture synthesis

The Keck Observatory (2 x 10 m) and the Very Large Telescope, of the European Southern Observatory on Cerro Paranal in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile, measure 4 × 8.2 m and 4 × 1.8 m, all on separate mounts but in one building for interferometry.


Possible budget figures, which are estimates and can vary over time.

Name Cost
(est USD)
Extremely Large Telescope (ELT) $1189 million €1055 million (Euros)
Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) $1200 million
Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT) $700 million
Large Binocular Telescope (LBT) $120 million
Gran Telescopio Canarias (GTC) $147 million €130 million (Euros)


There were several telescopes in various stages in the 1990s and early 2000s, and some developed into construction projects.

Under construction
Funded construction

Some of these projects have been cancelled, or merged into ongoing extremely large telescopes.

Colossus Telescope

Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera image (LROC, NASA) which was able to detect from its lowest orbit the Apollo landing sites and tracks left by astronauts. This is the level of spatial resolution that would be seen with the Colossus Telescope from the surface of the Earth.
International Space Station photographed from space during repair of the US Solar array by astronaut Scott Parazynski. The Colossus will be able to see manmade objects at this height with the level of detail as on this picture.

The Colossus Telescope is a planned specialized private observatory. The telescope would use a segmented reflecting telescope design with multiple off-axis reflecting mirrors of 8 meters (8.8 yards) in diameter.[15] The telescope would be oriented towards near infrared and visible light, focusing on high angular resolution for relatively bright sky objects.[16] The combined area would correspond to 74 meters (243 feet) of aperture and the telescope would be capable of resolving images of extrasolar planets down to the size of Mercury for nearby stars. Compared to a telescope with a full primary mirror, it has a lower cost of construction by combining new technologies and a design similar to the Hobby–Eberly telescope. It will also theoretically be able to detect extrasolar civilizations like Earth's using global warming as a thermodynamic marker.[17][18][19][20][21][22][23] It has also been proposed that a telescope of this design could detect a Dyson sphere, if such a construction exists.[24] Around exoplanets, one of the ways it would try to detect life is by looking for evidence of photosynthesis.[25] On Earth, photosynthesis takes place in plants giving many areas a characteristic green. The light from an exoplanet could be studied to look specifically for this type of compound.[26]

The Colossus Telescope, because it weighs so little and is scalable in size, can be combined in tens or hundreds of blocks that can be up to a kilometer or more across. This adds the capability for laser propelling interstellar nanocraft.[27]

Science Goals

Science goals include:[28]

See also


  1. ^ As A Skeleton Science Case For Extremely Large (20m–100m) Ground-based Telescopes (ELTs) and first section of ELT Roadmap Archived 2015-05-18 at the Wayback Machine., PDF
  2. ^ Jha, Alok (5 August 2006). "Extremely Large Telescope could reveal secrets of life, the universe and everything". The Guardian. 
  3. ^ a b "Thirty Meter Telescope Construction Proposal" (PDF). TMT Observatory Corporation. 2007-09-12: 29. Retrieved 2009-07-24. 
  4. ^ a b "Chapter 6: Optics" (PDF). GMT Conceptual Design Report. GMT Consortium. pp. 6–3. Retrieved 2008-04-02. 
  5. ^ http://www.eso.org/ eso1419 — Organisation Release, Groundbreaking for the E-ELT, 19 June 2014
  6. ^ Govert Schilling – Europe Downscales Monster Telescope to Save Money ( 14 June 2011) – Science Insider
  7. ^ http://www.eso.org/public/astronomy/teles-instr/e-elt_num.html
  8. ^ TMT Timeline, accessed February 11, 2018
  9. ^ Stewart, Burnett, Colin M., John (October 14, 2016). "Hawaii Supreme Court voids Thirty Meter Telescope permit". Oahu Publications. West Hawaii Today. Retrieved 19 December 2015. 
  10. ^ Thirty Meter Telescope timeline page, TMT Observatory Project, retrieved 2010-10-12 
  11. ^ http://sen.com, Elizabeth Howell, Giant telescope gets $20m funding boost as design takes shape, 29 December 2014
  12. ^ "Large Binocular Telescope Achieves First Binocular Light" (Press release). Large Binocular Telescope Corporation. 2008-02-28. Archived from the original on 2008-03-10. 
  13. ^ "Giant Canary Islands telescope captures first light". CBCnews. CBC. 16 July 2007. Retrieved 24 July 2013. 
  14. ^ a b ELT
  15. ^ "Post-Keck-era telescope design strategies for Earth-like exo-life searches | SPIE Homepage: SPIE". spie.org. Retrieved 2017-04-12. 
  16. ^ Colossus Jeff Kuhn SearchLight Observatory Network, and Institute for Astronomy University of Hawaii – 2012
  17. ^ http://the-colossus.com/resources/kuhnetal_spie2014.pdf Looking Beyond 30m-class Telescopes: The Colossus Project
  18. ^ http://the-colossus.com/resources/moretto_spie2016_ParFAIT.pdf Partially filled aperture interferometric telescopes: achieving large aperture and coronagraphic performance
  19. ^ "Colossus Telescope". the-colossus.com. Retrieved 2017-04-06. 
  20. ^ http://the-colossus.com/press/2013_06_Astronomy_ETC.pdf How to find ET with infrared light
  21. ^ https://www.planets.life/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/Remote-Sensing-of-Life-Polarimetric-Signatures-of-Photosynthetic-Pigments-as-New-Biomarkers.pdf Remote Sensing of Life: Polarimetric Signatures of Photosynthetic Pigments as New Biomarkers, Berdyugina, S.V., Kuhn, J.R., Harrington, D.M., Santl-Temkiv, T., Messersmith, E.J., International Journal of Astrobiology, 15, 45–56 (2016)
  22. ^ https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/international-journal-of-astrobiology/article/remote-sensing-of-life-polarimetric-signatures-of-photosynthetic-pigments-as-sensitive-biomarkers/00B1527424BCD59225C293EB0A803FEC Remote Sensing of Life: Polarimetric Signatures of Photosynthetic Pigments as New Biomarkers
  23. ^ Global Warming as a Detectable Thermodynamic Marker of Earth-like Extrasolar Civilizations: The case for a Telescope like Colossus, Kuhn, J.R., Berdyugina, S.V., International Journal of Astrobiology, 14, 401–410
  24. ^ "Colossus Telescope outstrips Keck resolving power to find Dyson Sphere | Stellar Experiences". www.stellarexperiences.com. Retrieved 2017-04-12. 
  25. ^ [1]
  26. ^ Berdyugina, S.; Kuhn, J.; Harrington, D.; Moretto, G.; Langlois, M.; Halliday, D.; Harlingten, C. (2014-03-01). "Detecting extraterrestrial life with the Colossus telescope using photosynthetic biosignatures": P4.89. Bibcode:2014ebi..confP4.89B. 
  27. ^ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y3f-q-hKff0 The Path to Finding Life in the Universe
  28. ^ "Colossus Telescope". the-colossus.com. Retrieved 2017-04-06. 

External links

  • Australian National Workshop on Extremely Large Telescopes (ELTs)
  • The OPTICON ELT Working Group a Europe-wide research project
  • The science case for Extremely Large Telescopes (ELTs) from the Royal Observatory, Edinburgh
  • Colossus Telescope
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