When I was a kid, the 200 inch telescope at Mt. Palomar was the largest in the world. That’s 5 meters across. We consoled ourselves when the Soviets build a 6 meter telescope by saying that it wasn’t as good a mirror (it wasn’t).

When it was designed in the ’70s the Hubble Space Telescope was to be the next big thingTM. And once they finally fixed the problem caused by an error in the construction of the mirror in 1993, it was. Hubble was not cheap, however. It’s cost over $9.2 billion to date, counting STScI, refurbishing missions and support teams.

About the same time, the Keck 10 meter telescope was built with a grant of $140 million from The W.M Keck foundation. It’s twin, a second identical telescope was built in 1996. That’s a lot of telescope, and a heck of a lot cheaper than HST even if that figure doesn’t count maintenance and support. Having a ‘scope on the ground will do that for your budget.

Is it any better?

No, not really. But with the advent of adaptive optics there’s a lot of areas where it can equal and even exceed Hubble. There’s a lot of areas it can’t, because the atmosphere just absorbs the light. But in some parts of the spectrum, it’s amazing how far the technology has come.

Now there’s plans for a thirty meter telescope built with money from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

TMT will consist of a primary mirror with 492 individual 1.45-meter segments that together measure 30 meters in diameter, providing more than eight times the collecting area of the current largest telescope. All segments will be under precision computer control so that they will work together as a single mirror. This revolutionary technology was developed for the 10-meter mirrors in the two Keck telescopes in Hawaii.

The TMT will not only be the largest optical-infrared telescope in the world, but it will also be at the forefront of technology in virtually every aspect of its design. Adaptive optics (AO) will allow the TMT to achieve a resolution superior to that of the Hubble Space Telescope.

More about its impressive capabilities here.

Explore posts in the same categories: Astronomy, Science

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