E-ELT: italian excellence to construct giant telescope
A contract has been signed that will lead to the construction of one of this century’s key astronomical facilities. The European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT) will be the biggest optical and infrared observatory ever built, with a primary mirror nearly 40m across.
The Italian-led ACe Consortium will manufacture, transport, and assemble the E-ELT’s major structural elements – its support frame and protective dome. At €400m (£305m; $445m), the contract is the largest ever awarded by the European Southern Observatory – an intergovernmental organisation that runs some of the world’s largest and most advanced telescopes.
Development on the mirrors – in particular, a very complex quaternary mirror – continues apace. The signatures put to their construction contract in Garching bei München, Germany, on Wednesday mean the E-ELT project can now move to full implementation.
The E-ELT’s 39.3m main mirror will be more than four times the width of today’s best optical telescopes (antennas for radio telescopes are still very much bigger).Its sensitivity and resolution should make it possible to image directly rocky planets beyond our Solar System.
The observatory should also be able to provide major insights into the nature of black holes, galaxy formation, the mysterious “dark matter” that pervades the Universe, and the even more mysterious “dark energy” which appears to be pushing the cosmos apart at an accelerating rate.
The ACe Consortium comprises the Italian construction groups Astaldi and Cimolai, and the nominated sub-contractor EIE Group. Nicolò D’Amico, the president of Italy’s National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF), was present at the Garching signing. He commented:
This is an important day for Italian industry and Italian science.We do a lot of technological development inside our institute with a view to transferring it to industry, so in a sense what we are doing here today is closing the loop.