New telescope in Chile will be world's most powerful – even more so than

New telescope in Chile will be world’s most powerful – even more so than Hubble in space – after scientists develop technology to cut through atmospheric distortion

  • New optics system, MAVIS, will be based at Chile’s Very Large Telescope facility 
  • The technology will help produce images 10 to 20 times clearer than ever before
  • Designed and built by scientists in Australia, the telescope is expected by 2025 

Astronomers are drawing up plans for the world’s most powerful telescope which will create images three times clearer than those from the famed Hubble telescope.

The so-called MAVIS telescope will be completed by 2025 and will be based at the Very Large Telescope facility in Chile. 

Staff at both Macquarie University and the Australian National University will begin work on the ambitious $32 million (£18 million) optics system in February. 

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New frontiers: Staff at both Macquarie University and the Australian National University will begin work on the ambitious $32 million (£18 million) optics system starting in February 2019

New frontiers: Staff at both Macquarie University and the Australian National University will begin work on the ambitious $32 million (£18 million) optics system starting in February 2019

Associate Professor Francois Rigaut, the Adaptive Optics Principal Scientist at ANU who is leading the international consortium, said the upgraded telescope would revolutionise ground-based optical astronomy. 

Currently, bubbles of hot and cold air mixing in the atmosphere distort light waves and blur images captured from telescopes, producing a phenomenon like looking at the horizon through a sandstorm. 

The new technology will counteract this and produce images over a field of view 20 times larger than regular adaptive-optics systems.

They will also be three times more detailed than anything recorded by the Hubble Space Telescope. 

‘Atmospheric turbulence really limits what we can see through a ground-based telescope – it’s a bit like the phenomenon of objects appearing blurry on the horizon during a hot day. 

‘MAVIS will remove this blurring and deliver images essentially as crisp as if the telescope were in space, helping us to peer back into the Universe in its infancy,’ he said.

It will also allow scientists to identify individual stars in faraway galaxies allowing them to tell how old the stars are and to retrace the history of how galaxies form.

Advancement: The new technology will produce images 10-20 clearer, plus three times more detailed than anything recorded by the Hubble Space Telescope

Advancement: The new technology will produce images 10-20 clearer, plus three times more detailed than anything recorded by the Hubble Space Telescope

HOW WILL IT WORK? 

An adaptive-optics system is made of three parts: a deformable mirror, which corrects the deformed light wave going through the atmosphere; a wavefront sensor, which senses the distortion of the light wave; and a real-time computer, which calculates the corrections.

MAVIS will have three deformable mirrors, eight wavefront sensors and five laser guide stars.

It will also use a technique called Multi-Conjugate Adaptive Optics to deliver its sharp images over a field of view 20 times larger than regular adaptive-optics systems.

Similarly, scientists will be able to look for supermassive black holes in the centre of incredibly dense groups of old stars called globular clusters.

‘Well for us it is a big honour to have the opportunity to lead (the design study) and also international recognition of our capabilities, our knowledge, our know-how and so it’s quite important for us in that aspect,’ Prof. Rigaut said.

As Australian scientists have been chosen to lead the design study, there is a good chance they will also be granted the ability to build the actual technology, he said.

The 15-month design study will begin in February with the upgraded telescope expected to be completed by 2025.

As part of the agreement, the Australian astronomy community and project partners will be guaranteed 150 nights of observation access at the Very Large Telescope with MAVIS, equivalent in value to about $20 million (£11 million).

The two universities, which are part of the international Australian Astronomical Optics consortium, will also work with the Italian National Institute for Astrophysics and the Laboratoire d’Astrophysique de Marseille and ONERA in France on the project.

WHAT IS THE HUBBLE SPACE TELESCOPE?

The Hubble telescope was launched on April 24, 1990, via the space shuttle Discovery from Kennedy Space Centre in Florida.

It is named after famed astronomer Edwin Hubble who was born in Missouri in 1889.

He is arguably most famous for discovering that the universe is expanding and the rate at which is does so – now coined the Hubble constant. 

Hubble has made more than 1.3 million observations since its mission began in 1990 and helped publish more than 15,000 scientific papers.

The Hubble telescope is named after Edwin Hubble who was responsible for coming up with the Hubble constant and is one of the greatest astronomers of all-time

The Hubble telescope is named after Edwin Hubble who was responsible for coming up with the Hubble constant and is one of the greatest astronomers of all-time

It orbits Earth at a speed of about 17,000 mph in low Earth orbit at about 340 miles in altitude.

Hubble has the pointing accuracy of .007 arc seconds, which is like being able to shine a laser beam focused on Franklin D. Roosevelt’s head on a dime roughly 200 miles away.

Hubble’s primary mirror is 2.4 meters (7 feet, 10.5 inches) across and in total is 13.3 meters (43.5 feet) long – the length of a large school bus.