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A new astronomical telescope, costing billions, is being developed

Photo: ESO

​​Artist's impression of the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT) on Cerro Armazones, a 3060-metre mountaintop in Chile's Atacama Desert.​​

​Prior to initiating a multi-billion investment, an international astronomical organisation wishes to carry out an analysis on a telescope which could provide new knowledge on the universe’s origin and life on other planets.

The international astronomical organisation, Giant Magellan Telescope Organisation (GMTO), based in Pasadena, California, is in the process of developing a new giant telescope which, if all goes according to plan, should be ready to receive the first data from space in 2022.

The organisation has approached COWI requesting multidisciplinary advice prior to making this enormous investment. This is the second occasion, within recently years, that an international astronomical centre has sought expertise from COWI regarding the design of giant telescopes. Recently, COWI carried out a similar analysis for the European Astronomical Organisation Southern Observatory (ESO) prior to the construction of what is to be the worlds’ largest telescope, the European Extremely Large Telescope 


Fierce competition for new data from space

With GMTO entering the arena, ESO and GMTO are now competing against one another to get their respective telescopes up and running as quickly as possible and thereby be the first to gain access to new data. Nonetheless, ESO has recommended that GMTO use COWI as their advisor on project economy and organization, schedules, quality assurance and risk analysis of their investment.

It is commendation, indeed, to be recommended by a client to a competitor," says Ove Skjærbæk, Senior Consultant at COWI.

The GMTO telescope is, like the E-ELT telescope, to be placed in Chile’s desert. It is here that the best atmospheric conditions are to be found if one wishes to look back more than seven billion light years in time. This has the potential to provide researchers with new knowledge on how the universe began, what actually takes around black holes and, is there life on other planets.

Gigantic Telescopes

GMTO wishes to develop a telescope which is based on seven passive mirrors, each measuring 8.4 metres in diameter. ESO’s E-ELT telescope will, on the other hand, have a single active mirror with a diameter of 39 metres, comprised of 800 8-sided facets, each with a diameter of 1.4 metres.

The first telescope to be completed will be accredited as the worlds’ largest – with a 3-4 fold increase in observation capacity compared to todays’ telescopes where the largest mirror is 8 metres in diameter.
Both organisations are experience in developing giant telescopes for Chile’s desert. GMTO’s researchers and management participated in the construction of the Magellan Telescope and manage this and other telescopes in the Las Campanas Observatory. ESO constructed and manages the European Very Large Telescope (VLT) in the Paranal Observatory.

LAST UPDATED: 16.09.2016