E-ELT: The Big Picture

Some astronomy news that made a bit of a splash over the weekend was the announcement that the UK is to invest £88 million in the European Extremely Large Telescope. This amount is to be spread over 10 years, so isn’t quite as astronomical as it sounds, but in any case it is only the UK’s contribution to a project that involves large contributions from the other countries involved in the European Southern Observatory. The UK announcement isn’t the end of the story, in fact, as not all the money needed to make the project work is yet in place.

This is all good news, especially because not long ago it seemed quite likely that the UK would have to make a choice between the E-ELT and the Square Kilometre Array. Now it looks like we’re going to be involved in both of the world’s leading ground-based observational facilities. There is a price to be paid, of course. In order to accommodate these projects within the flat-cash budget of the Science and Technology Facilities Council, difficult choices had to be made, and some things have to go. Not everyone will be happy about the outcome, but Big Science requires Big Decisions.

Anyway, it was nice to see the Observer run a piece about this story, although I was a bit baffled by the implication of the caption going with the picture used to illustrate the story:

The European Extremely Large Telescope will study the Magellanic Cloud.

I’ll avoid asking “which Magellanic Cloud (Large or Small)?” and just point out that E-ELT will study a lot more than either or both! Still, people are more likely to read web articles if they include images, so I’ll end this piece with an appropriate one.

Random Astronomical Image

Random Astronomical Image

13 Responses to “E-ELT: The Big Picture”

  1. telescoper Says:

    I didn’t see it, but there was an item on Channel 4 News last night about this story:


  2. It’s a shame that, at least for now, the Overwhelmingly Large Telescope has been given up on. I liked the acronym (“OWL”).

    What about the Astronomically Large Telescope?

  3. Good news. The ELT plans have become a bit smaller over time and perhaps it is time for a second downgrade of the name. Too bad we already have the Very Large Telescope – the naming convention is becoming incremental. Extra Large Telescope?

    It amazes me how cheap the ELT is compared to the JWST. One JWST can buy 3 ELTs, 2 SKAs, 10 years funding for 500 postdocs, and a decent lunch.

    • Nick Cross Says:

      JWST’s original estimate was <1 billion. It may be better to compare costs once they were built. Projects have a nasty habit of getting more expensive over time. The worst offenders are ones where significant underbidding occurred to get a contract. In Edinburgh, we will get half a tram line for about 50% more money than the original tram network that was promised.

  4. Talking of acronyms, I’ve occasionally pushed for an Auroral Radio Sounding Experiment but no success so far.

  5. You picked a nice image to end with, both visually and scientifically. We still don’t understand why this normal star suddenly erupted – a swallowed planet is a possibility. But the point it makes is that telescopes are judged by the images they produce. The public expects from the LHC to be convinced how difficult it all is. But from astronomy they expect eye candy. Of course I am happy to oblige! Will the Planck release show a power spectrum or a colourful image of the Galactic plane?

  6. […] vermelden: der endgültige Einstieg des UK beim ESO-E-ELT, was zwar ein weiterer Schritt ist, aber an Brasilien hakt’s immer noch – und First Light für drei weitere LCOGT-Teleskope; vgl. ISAN 174-9. [15:15 […]

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