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Very Large Telescope.

Very Large Telescope

Eight European nations, linked together in the European Southern Observatory (ESO), have agreed to construct the ESO Very Large Telescope. When completed, it will be the world's largest optical telescope, consisting of four 8-meter mirrors that will be able to combine their images to simulate a single mirror of 16-meter diameter. According to an ESO announcement, "This decision expresses Europe's confidence in the ambition of her astronomical community and the ingenuity of her high-tech industry; together they will ensure that Europe will be second to none in the exploration of the Universe for a long time to come." The eight nations involved are Belgium, Denmark, France, the Federal Republic of Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden and Switzerland.

The four mirrors will stand in a row, each housed in a separate dome. Designed in two pieces, the domes will fold back like awnings when the mirrors are operating. Mirrors of this size cannot depend on monolithic thickness of glass to maintain the shapes of their surfaces. Instead the mirrors will be thin, and an active support system composed of levers and thrusters controlled by a computer will hold the shapes. According to the announcement, ESO has tested the principle with a 1-meter mirror and it has been incorporated into ESO's 3.5-meter New Technology Telescope, which will start operating at ESO's present observatory at La Silla, Chile, in late 1988. ESO has not yet decided whether to build the Very Large Telescope at La Silla or somewhere else in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile. The La Silla site is an excellent one, the announcement says, but better sites may be found farther north. One such site that shows promise is Cerro Paranal, about 100 kilometers south of Antofagasta. The final choice of site is not expected for about three years.

European astronomers have been studying and planning the project since 1984. The telescope is expected to take 10 years to complete, although part of it could be in operation by 1994 or 1995. They estimate the total cost at $230 million.
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Title Annotation:European Southern Observatory Very Large Telescope
Author:Thomsen, Dietrick E.
Publication:Science News
Date:Jan 2, 1988
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