You are on page 1of 11


com/science Inside this Article
1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. Introduction to 10 Amazing Telescopes Telescope 10: Southern African Large Telescope Telescope Nine: Keck Observatory Telescope Eight: Great Canary Telescope Telescope Seven: Very Large Telescope Telescope Six: Large Binocular Telescope Telescope Five: Hubble Space Telescope Telescope Four: Chandra X-ray Observatory

9. Telescope Three: Giant Magellan Telescope 10. 11. 12. 13. 7. Telescope Two: Thirty Meter Telescope Telescope One: European Extremely Large Telescope Lots More Information See all Astronomy articles

Telescope 10: Southern African Large Telescope
In an optical telescope, performance depends primarily on two characteristics: the ability to collect light bouncing off objects and the ability to focus that light to produce a clear image of those objects. The ability to collect light is directly related to aperture size, or the area available to capture light. In the huge telescopes of modern astronomy, one or more mirrors serve to collect light. The size of the mirror is the single most important determinant in how far a telescope can see, since the farther away an object is, the fainter the light bouncing off it.

Gianluigi Guercia/AFP/Getty Images

SALT's large mirrors allow it to peer out at distant galactic sights. It's mirror size that makes the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT), located just outside Sutherland, South Africa, stand out among the most amazing telescopes in the world. With an 11.1-meter (36.6-ft) aperture, SALT can see distant galaxies and quasars that are one billion times fainter than what can be seen with the human eye [source: GTC]. No one can manufacture a single mirror of that size, which is about the height of a three-story building, so SALT uses a collection of hexagonal mirrors pieced together into one perfectly smooth mirror. A single imperfection would distort the image it captures.

A 6-inch (15-cm) mirror in each telescope deforms its shape 670 times per second to make up for the effects of Earth's atmosphere on incoming light [source: SALT]. we'd have the optical acuity of SALT. Joe McNally/Getty Images The dome shutters of Keck I and II top the summit of the dormant volcano Mauna Kea in Hawaii.267. However. an array of smaller mirrors arranged on a perfectly formed curve. which makes it the second largest telescope system in the world. like SALT's mirror. at the top of Hawaii's Mauna Kea peak. But one of the greatest parts of the system is a tiny mirror that's actually supposed to flex. The massive mirrors that collect and focus light are. . and how quickly is it expanding? Each 300-ton. Its actual aperture is more like 9.2 meters).18 ft) [source: GTC]. The telescopes have inner cooling systems to protect against the flexing that can come with heat exposure. The Keck telescope system in Hawaii has a larger actual aperture. which is the greatest enemy to ground-based telescopes. Keck has to deal with the distortion caused by Earth's gaseous atmosphere.2 meters (30. part of the telescope design blocks the edges of the mirror. 8-story tall telescope has an actual aperture of 10 meters (33 ft) and can collect both visible and infrared light.If we could see a candle flame on the moon with the naked eye. two massive telescopes scan the universe for answers to some big questions -. while SALT comes in first with its 11-meter aperture.000 ft (4. Telescope Nine: Keck Observatory At an altitude of 14. Even on Mauna old is the universe.

If Keck can see back in time.3 ft) across. The telescope gathers both visible and infrared light with a mirror made up of 36 smaller mirrors.4 meters (34. the Great Canary Telescope. cost $180 million to build. Like Keck.The result is a pair of telescopes that can see the past. By the time this faint light hits Keck's mirrors.4-meter aperture is used at all times. the event that caused it is long gone. It claims the title of the biggest telescope in the world. . situated on a mountain on La Palma in the Great Canary Islands. with a light-collecting area 10. imagine what the biggest telescope in the world. making it one of the greatest cosmic observers in the world. The entire 10. can pick up with its chart-topping aperture. Telescope Eight: Great Canary Telescope The Great Canary Telescope (GCT). Keck can pick up light that has been traveling for billions of years. Keck is helping astronomers determine the age of the universe and its expansion rate as well as allowing them to watch the birth of stars in other galaxies. the GCT uses adaptive optics to correct for the distortion caused when light passes through Earth's atmosphere. In the Great Canary device. Marco Simoni/The Image Bank/Getty Images The Great Canary Telescope is located in the Great Canary Islands. there are several deforming mirrors. and each changes shape more than one thousand times per second [source: GTC].

While the light-collecting ability of one 8. none can compare to the power of several massive telescopes working together. One of those telescopes. As large as a single telescope's aperture can get. effectively creating one massive device. It consists of four 8. you'd have the observational power of the Very Large Telescope (VLT).2-meter (26. and planets that orbit other stars besides the sun. the Great Canary Telescope can capture distant galaxies.are often used in arrays. the capacity of several of those telescopes working in tandem leaves the GTC in the dust.With its optical systems. The VLT is actually an array of telescopes. Joe McNally/Getty Images The Very Large Telescope stands on the top of a leveled mountain in northern Chile. which stretches across the United States." and the Very Large Baseline Array. from Puerto Rico to Hawaii. several telescopes work together as a single unit. which was featured in the movie "Contact. That's where the Very Large Telescope comes in. The area's low humidity and rainfall make it perfect for heavenly observation. black holes. The VLT is an array of optical telescopes.9-ft) telescope might fall short of the incredible Great Canary. Radio telescopes -. It can capture light so old that it shows the birth of galaxies in the earliest days of the universe.9-ft) telescopes.2-meter (26. In an array. can pick up light 4 billion times fainter than what we can see with our eyes -- . each of which is a large telescope in its own right.which pick up radio waves instead of light waves -. like the Very Large Array in New Mexico. which can operate individually. If you could look up at the moon and see each of the headlights as a distinct point of light. Telescope Seven: Very Large Telescope Imagine a car on the moon with its headlights on. too.

light-collecting mirrors. The system collects as much light as a telescope with a single 11. The binocular system uses two mirrors. two-part telescope called the Large Binocular Telescope (LBT) has already achieved first light -.8-ft) aperture [source: Popular Mechanics]. . A massive. The VLT can join up to three of the huge telescopes into a single unit. possibly the most powerful telescope in the world. constructed in a honeycombed fashion. massive unit with two huge. There are also four smaller telescopes that act as backups to boost the system.on a mountain in Arizona. Unlike the duo or trio of 8. using underground mirrors to combine light from the individual telescopes into a unified beam.56 ft). LBT is still getting up to's a single. Billed by many as the most powerful telescope in the world because of its effective aperture. The result is a telescope system that can see objects at 25 times the resolution of each telescope on its own. Another take on the array approach is the type of bimirror system used in the Large Binocular Telescope.8-meter (38. The mirror became part of the LBT.4 meters (27. The ultimate goal is to be able to join together all four large telescopes into an array with the light-collecting power of a single 50-meter (165-ft) telescope. LBT has both mirrors mounted on the same telescope. While it's already operational. the system uses an innovative honeycomb structure for its huge mirrors instead of a solid surface [source: Popular Mechanics].the first image collected by a new telescope -. It's not an array -.9-ft) mirrors at work in the Very Large Telescope.that's four times fainter than what SALT can see. Previous Page Next Page Science Videos • More Science Videos » Telescope Six: Large Binocular Telescope Joe McNally/Getty Images A technician grinds a large mirror. each one with an aperture of 8. making them much lighter than other mirrors and less prone to gravitational distortion. The mirrors have a smooth front and an open honeycomb matrix in back.2-meter (26.

No matter how big ground-based telescopes get. The Chandra X-ray Observatory tops Hubble in revealing the hidden world. NASA/National Geographic/Getty Images The Hubble Space Telescope has provided unparalleled images of space. They also believe it will capture the first clear images of the types of space dust and gas pockets that can develop into new galaxies. Hubble helped scientists confirm that dark matter exists and narrow down the age of the universe to 13 or 14 billion years [source: Hubblesite. Telescope Four: Chandra X-ray Observatory . aiding in the discovery of planets. Space-based telescopes are a prime example of combining technologies to achieve amazing results. which was criticized by Newton at the time. All of the superlative ground-based telescopes have high-tech adaptive optics systems to correct for the effect of Earth's atmosphere. since the light it collects has travelled only through the relative vacuum of space [source: Hubblesite. A smaller telescope deposited in space. but it's not the best space telescope out there. but its resolution is comparable or better. is orbiting Earth in a satellite telescope called Hubble [source: Cartage].org].When it's fully operational (projected by 2010) astronomers expect LBT to see planets circling stars well outside our own galaxy with 10 times the resolution of Hubble Space Telescope. With an aperture of 2.5 inches).org]. Take Hubble. which means it can see events that occurred billions of years ago. beyond Earth's atmosphere. for instance… Telescope Five: Hubble Space Telescope French inventor N. Hubble captures incredible images of the universe.4 meters (94. Hubble captures faint light coming in from billions of light years from Earth. can avoid the issue entirely. they will always face the issue of distortion caused by Earth's atmosphere. Cassegrain might be stunned to know his 1672 reflecting-telescope design. The Hubble Space Telescope combines astronomy with rocket science and operates in Earth's orbit. There is really only one way to improve such systems: avoid the atmosphere entirely. Hubble is much smaller than state-of-the-art ground telescopes.

so it's able to see deeper into space. peering out about 10 billion light years from Earth. Chandra X-ray observatory has recorded crystal clear images of supernova remnants.K. The Next Generation Space Telescope is already in development. black holes. the most high-tech X-ray telescope in the world. And like the space telescopes. nebulae and dark matter. The race is on to build the biggest telescope ever. using a barrelshaped series of mirrors that make up a total aperture of 2.25 times more sensitive than any other X-ray telescope [source: Harvard]. The exposure lasted two weeks. they're clearer than Hubble's. among other phenomena. ground-based devices are looking at a next generation. and it could be launched by 2013 [source: FirstScience].Chandra. and the final three telescopes on our list are top contenders. is so sensitive it can capture images of particles as they disappear into a black hole deep in outer space.7 meters (9 ft) [source: Harvard]. exploding stars.81-ft) aperture class.Baganoff/Getty Images The Chandra X-ray Observatory created this image of the event horizon of a supermassive black hole. Telescope Three: Giant Magellan Telescope . NASA/CXC/MIT/F. Because the images are based on much higher-frequency waves of energy. Chandra is certainly not the last word in space telescopes. too. It will orbit the sun. not the Earth. It also orbits Earth 200 times farther out than Hubble.25-to-32. The current state-of-the-art instruments are in the 8-to-10-meter (26. quasars. X-ray telescopes rely on higher-energy phenomena than light telescopes. Chandra records images of the universe by analyzing energy fluctuations on the level of X-rays. The next wave of telescopes will squash that. and Chandra is a more sensitive instrument -. Scientists believe that Chandra will make startling contributions to our understanding of the origins of life.

And it has the price tag to prove it.S. The Thirty Meter Telescope's massive primary mirror has 492 segments. Its adaptive optics correct not only for atmospheric distortion but also for ground winds that can alter observational accuracy. all perfectly aligned to form a 30-meter (98-foot) light-collecting surface. Chile. Its seven mirrors. astronomers expect Magellan to contribute to our understanding of the origins of life (one of the main themes in modern astronomy) by picking up light that began its journey billions of years ago. the telescope has an adaptive optics system that can cancel out atmospheric distortion to the point of producing images with 10 times Hubble's resolution [source: Wired].56-ft) mirrors. Projected for completion by 2016. the next telescope on the list takes it up another notch. Magellan has seven. along with two U. research institutes.74-ft) aperture dwarfs the current largest Great Canary Telescope. the Giant Magellan Telescopes uses several mirrors in the same device. Gary Williams/Getty Images A spin casting furnace creates a mold to build mirrors for the Giant Magellan Telescope. . combine to create a telescope with an approximate 24meter (80-foot) primary mirror.4-meter (27. But instead of two 8. Based in Las Campanas. Telescope Two: Thirty Meter Telescope The name says it all. arranged with six segments surrounding a single central mirror.Much like the Large Binocular Telescope. It's a $500 million project funded by several universities in the United States and Australia. Each segment will be continuously computer-adjusted to maintain the correct alignment to prevent any image distortion. While a 24-meter (78.

The Thirty Meter Telescope will be eight times more powerful than any current ground-based system [source: Discovery News]. But of the three next-generation ground-based telescopes on the list. Telescope One: European Extremely Large Telescope At a cost of $1. The telescope will cost about $780 million and is funded in part by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore [source: RedOrbit]. The original design called for a 100-meter (330-ft) mirror but was downsized for practical reasons. . the Thirty Meter Telescope is the closest of the next-generation devices to full funding. AFP/Getty Images An artist's rendering of the European Extremely Large Telescope.17 billion. The Chile-based project. the European Extremely Large Telescope (ELT) is aiming high. With a $200 million Moore Foundation grant. It's expected to have 12 times the resolution of Hubble Space Telescope. funded by a consortium of European Union countries. none is as ambitious as our final entry. The telescope could be under construction as early as 2009 and ready for first light by 2016. Europe is aiming to create a telescope that wipes out the competition.Justin Sullivan/Getty Images Intel co-founder Gordon Moore has helped fund the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope. is building a telescope with a 42-meter (138-ft) mirror.

ESO. our ability to see into the farthest corners of the universe only possible because engineers have come up with new ways to build mirrors. This new class of telescope The World's Most Powerful Telescope .com/home/articles/technology/thegreat-telescope-race_1522. providing insight into dark matter and dark energy.the 30-to-50-meter class -. Cartage. http://chandra. http://www. 2008 Sources • The Chandra http://www. meaning the possibilities of what these new telescopes can see is nearly endless. 42 meters is nothing to sneeze at.and space-based telescopes start delivering their • The Great Telescope Race.howstuffworks.May 2006 • redOrbit: New Technologies Fuel Powerful Telescope Race .and into the farthest corners of time -.April 24. astronomers are predicting the discovery of new planets and entire planetary systems. including upcoming projects and details on how these and other telescopes work. 2004.htm • How Hubble Space Telescope Works. look at the links on the next page. 2004 • Popular Mechanics.html • History of For more information on telescopes. No one knows just what we'll see when the next-generation ground. First Science. http://www. the 21-story-tall telescope should add dramatically to our knowledge across the field of . as well as revealing the events that gave birth to the universe. The number of segments they can piece together into a perfect surface has grown from the dozens to the hundreds. Harvard-Smithsonian Center for With both private and public sources pumping hundreds of millions of dollars into telescopes.August 10.html • E-ELT.html • Giant Magellan Telescope: Technical Equipementdevices/Telescope/Historyoftelescope/mainpage. HowStuffWorks.and what does it have to do with NASA? How NASA Works How Rocket Engines Work More Great Links • First Science. As for the ELT.gmto. As early as 2018.Still. Lots More Information Related HowStuffWorks Articles • • • • • How Hubble Space Telescope Works How Telescopes Work What is a gimbal -. August 10.appears to be limited only by how quickly we can build bigger instruments. the space-time continuum and the inner workings of super-massive black The Great Telescope Race . http://www.

Keck Observatory. 2008.html?source=r_space • An Overview of the Very Large Array (VLA).gtc. Baddest Telescope Continues. redOrbit.vla. http://www. April Popular Mechanics. National Radio Astronomy Observatory. Popular 2008. http://www. • The Race to Build the • World's Biggest Telescope in the _fuel_powerful_telescope_race/index.iac. ESO.html . http://www. 2007. WiredScience. New July 13. http://dsc.php • The World's Biggest Telescope. 2007.html • Southern African Large Telescope http://www.redorbit.http://blog. April 24.php • W.html • World's largest optical telescope to see first • Paranal http://www.html • The World's Most Powerful Telescope.newscientist.salt.eso. http://www.wired. 20. December 2007.• New Technologies Fuel Powerful Telescope Race. May 2006.popularmechanics. Dec. • What is the GTC? Gran Telescopio CANARIAS.