Overwhelmingly Large Telescope
Overwhelmingly Large Telescope — The European Southern Observatory has undertaken a concept study for the next generation of ground-based Extremely Large Telescopes (ELTs). Dubbed OWL, ESO’s concept is conceived as a 100 m. diameter optical and near-infrared, adaptive telescope.
With milliarc second resolution and limiting magnitude V~38, OWL will be capable of imaging solar system objects at resolutions comparable to that offered by space probes, over much longer time scales.
It will unveil the intricate processes underlying the formation of stellar and planetary systems. It will be able to image exoplanets and determine their’s atmospheres’ composition, and thereby, possibly, reveal the existence of biospheres.
It will peer into the deepest reaches of the universe and witness the birth of the very fisrt stars and galaxies. It may, eventually, revolutionize our perception of the universe as much as Galileo’s telescope did.
The major technological breakthroughs that made the current generation of 8- to 10-m telescopes possible provide strong confidence that with a sound industrial approach, OWL could be feasible at an affordable cost.
OWL could start to deliver scientific data by 2012, and become fully operational in 2015. A world-wide search for a suitable site has begun.
The primary objectives of the OWL study are to verify the feasibility of a 100-m class optical telescope, explore potential science cases, define a baseline conceptual design and operation’s scheme, and establish reliable cost, schedule, and performance estimates.
This study would eventually lead to a proposal for the detailed design and construction of the OWL telescope. Whereas no evident show-stopper has been identified so far, a crucial milestone is expected in 2004, when ESO’s Multi-Conjugate Adaptive Optics Demonstrator will be mounted on one of the four Very Large Telescopes (VLT) located at the Paranal observatory to pave the way for efficient, diffraction-limited performance of ground-based telescopes -from the VLT to OWL.