Last time we covered some of the telescopes currently on the cutting edge of astronomy. Today, in our final article of this series, we will cover the exciting future of telescopes.
The upcoming "largest telescope on Earth", has the apt name "Extremely Large Telescope" (ELT). Developed by the European Southern Observatory, the operators of the "Very Large Telescope", this behemoth is set to have a primary mirror over 40 metres in diameter.
This is about four times larger than the current record holder, and 1.5 times larger than the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT), also being built in Chile.
First light for the telescope is planned in 2027, with an emphasis on looking at planets around other stars, supermassive black holes and the first galaxies in the universe.
Perhaps one of the most-troubled future telescopes is that of NASA's James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). Also known as the "Just Wait, Soon! Telescope", this space telescope is planned to be Hubble's replacement and was originally meant to be launched in 2007 - 14 years ago.
Numerous delays and technical problems have constantly pushed the launch date forward. JWST is designed to be an infra-red telescope, looking at the heat signatures off of the first stars and galaxies using its special gold coated 6.5 metre mirror.
Fingers crossed it will be finally launched on October 31 this year.
Finally, let's go over two space missions that haven't even started being developed but are exciting nevertheless.
NASA's "Large UV, Optical and Infra-Red Surveyor" (LUIVOIR) is a potential telescope planned to be more or less the replacement for the JWST (when it is eventually launched).
It may boast a mirror up to 15 metres large, bigger than the current largest telescopes on the ground, and hopes to characterise planets around other stars that may be able to harbour life.
Last, but certainly not least, let's explore a rather unique telescope that is close to my heart: the Large Interferometer For Exoplanets (LIFE). Proposed as part of the European Space Agency's 2050 plan, this mission may consist of anywhere between four and six telescopes with mirrors around 2 metres in diameter.
What makes this mission special is that all telescopes can work together to produce a telescope with an effective diameter in the hundreds to thousands of metres, known as a space interferometer.
Such a telescope would have unprecedented resolution, being able to take direct images of potential Earths, much like when Galileo first looked at the moons of Jupiter.
The Australian National University currently has a team working on smaller scale missions that aim to prove the technology for LIFE is indeed possible.
- Jonah Hansen is a PhD student specialising in space interferometry at Mount Stromlo Observatory, at the Australian National University.