The Extremely Large Telescope (ELT) will be the world's largest telescope working in the visible to infrared wavelength range. The huge primary mirror of this telescope is 39m across, just under half a football pitch, this is an unparalleled collecting area for distant photons from the far reaches of the Universe. Along with a highly sophisticated system to correct for the blurring caused by atmospheric turbulence, the ELT will deliver some of the most sensitive and highest spatial resolution images of the sky at these wavelengths.
This mammoth and ambitious project is beyond the scope of any single nation, but through the international European Southern Observatory and its sixteen member states, we are collectively realising this project. Construction of the main foundations to support the football stadium sized dome and main structure are well underway at Cerro Armazones, the 3046m high and dry site for the ELT in Chile's Atacama Desert.
Oxford is taking a prominent role in the technologically complex and innovative instruments (spectrographs and cameras) that will record the light collected by the ELT. In particular, Professor Niranjan Thatte and his team, are leading one of the two instruments available from "first-light". This imaging spectrograph - HARMONI - is able to deliver a 3D image of the sky with every pixel in the that image having a spectrum associated to it. This workhorse instrument will deliver exquisite data addressing a plethora of science drivers ranging from characterising the atmospheres of planets around other stars, to the underlying physics of the first galaxies to form after the Big Bang.
Oxford also has involvement in the multi-object and high resolution Spectrographs MOSAIC (Prof Gavin Dalton, Instrument Architect) and HIRES (Dr Aprajita Verma, Science Team), respectively. We are also one of the key institutes involved in R&D towards the complex Planetary Camera and Spectrograph for the ELT (Dr Matthias Tecza, IFU lead). This instrument requires extreme adaptive optics correction and has the unique potential to characterise the atmospheres of rocky (Earth-like) planets searching signs of life.