The Promise of the E-ELT

paranal

Great article in the Guardian about a massive telescope, the European Extremely Large Telescope, or E-ELT, being built in Chile (once they’ve blown the cap off Cerro Armazones). The first thing that got my attention was the description of the existing observatory complex at Paranal:

More than 100 astronomers, engineers and support staff work and live there. A few dozen metres below the telescopes, they have a sports complex with a squash court, an indoor football pitch, and a luxurious 110-room residence that has a central swimming pool and a restaurant serving meals and drinks around the clock.

Sounds swank. I could definitely imagine a satisfying stay there: eat, sleep, exercise, investigate stellar phenomena, repeat.

The second thing that got my attention was this quote from Cambridge University astronomer Professor Gerry Gilmore:

“We can see exoplanets but we cannot study them in detail because – from our distant perspective – they appear so close to their parent stars. However, the magnification which the E-ELT will provide will mean we will be able to look at them directly and clearly. In 15 years, we should have a picture of a planet around another star and that picture could show its surface changing colour just as Earth does as the seasons change – indicating that vegetation exists on that world. We will then have found alien life.”

Uh wow. I did not realize this was on the horizon. I’m certainly hoping it’s not just hyperbole.

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