Astronomers use a variety of telescopes to observe the cosmos. Some orbit the Earth to get the most precise possible view without obstructions from Earth’s atmosphere, but other observatories are built on the planet’s surface and use various techniques to filter the atmosphere out of space images.
Much like space telescopes, ground-based telescopes are always evolving. Engineers are trying to develop larger mirrors for them, an attribute that increases a telescope’s image quality and sensitivity to incoming light. In most cases, the telescope’s mirror is comprised of many smaller mirror segments that combine to form a larger mirror-like surface. Developing these larger mirrors isn’t easy, and it can be incredibly painstaking to prepare the smaller mirrors such that they combine flawlessly.
Two larger ground-based telescopes are currently planned for 2020 – the Giant Magellan Telescope and the European Extremely Large Telescope. The latter will be the larger of the two, but both will set size records in the industry after they’re constructed.
The purpose of these larger ground-based telescopes is to try and see farther out into the cosmos to observe distant stars and their surroundings. Astronomers are obsessed with the idea of seeing the edge of the universe, and these larger telescopes could bring us closer to that goal, whether we ever achieve it or not. Regardless of what we might see, larger telescopes like these are sure to teach us something new about our universe, whatever that might be.
In this video, we learn about some the details involving ground-based telescope production and why it’s so important for science.