Ministers view Extremely Large Telescope work

11th November 2013

Alistair Carmichael MP, the Secretary of State for Scotland, visited the UK Astronomy Technology Centre (UK ATC) with David Willetts MP, Minister for Universities and Science, on 11th November 2013.

UK ATC is the national centre for astronomical technology, based at the Royal Observatory in Edinburgh. Together with other organisations in the UK and overseas, UK ATC designs and builds state-of-the-art instruments for many of the world’s major telescopes, conducts astronomical research and finds new ways to use technology developed for astronomy research to solve down-to-Earth problems. Adaptive optics, for example, was originally designed to give astronomers a clear picture of stars, by removing the distortions our atmosphere causes. Now the same technology is being applied to medical imaging, allowing us to get clearer pictures of what’s happening inside the body.

The highlight of the Ministers’ tour was the Crawford Laboratory, for which £0.5 million has been awarded to upgrade it for work on the large, high-precision instruments needed for the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT).

The E-ELT project aims to build the world’s largest and most advanced optical-infrared telescope. E-ELT will be able to capture 15 times more light than the largest optical telescopes we have now, and to generate images 16 times sharper than those produced by the Hubble Space Telescope. Although the E-ELT is a European project, it will be built by the European Southern Observatory, in the Atacama Desert in Chile – it’s the best place in the whole of the southern hemisphere for astronomy.

In March 2013, the UK committed funding of £88 million over the 10-year E-ELT construction period. STFC is awarding £35 million of this to UK companies and research institutions like UK ATC, for instrument production. UK industry has already won £9 million of contracts from the E-ELT, a figure that could rise to £90 million by the time the E-ELT is ready to take its first look at the stars.

Images

Alistair Carmichael MP,  the Secretary of State for Scotland and David Willetts MP, Minister for Universities and Science on a tour of the UK ATC with UK ATC Director Gillian Wright and STFC Chief Executive Officer John Womersley

Image 1:

Alistair Carmichael MP, the Secretary of State for Scotland and David Willetts MP, Minister for Universities and Science on a tour of the UK ATC with UK ATC Director Gillian Wright and STFC Chief Executive Officer John Womersley

Credit: Jason Cowan, UK ATC, Royal Observatory Edinburgh


Scientists Chris Evans and Colin Cunningham explaining adaptive optics to Alistair Carmichael and David Willetts

Image 2:

Scientists Chris Evans and Colin Cunningham explaining adaptive optics to Alistair Carmichael and David Willetts

Credit: Jason Cowan, UK ATC, Royal Observatory Edinburgh


Scientist Alistair Glasse showing one of MIRI's image slicers to David Willetts and Alistair Carmichael

Image 3:

Scientist Alistair Glasse showing one of MIRI's image slicers to David Willetts and Alistair Carmichael

Credit: Jason Cowan, UK ATC, Royal Observatory Edinburgh


Optical Engineer Martyn Wells explaining the principle of image slicing to David Willetts

Image 4:

Optical Engineer Martyn Wells explaining the principle of image slicing to David Willetts

Credit: Jason Cowan, UK ATC, Royal Observatory Edinburgh


Scientist Alistair Glasse showing one of MIRI's image slicers to David Willetts and Alistair Carmichael

Image 5:

Engineer Andy Vick discussing the development of GHOST with David Willetts and Alistair Carmichael

Credit: Jason Cowan, UK ATC, Royal Observatory Edinburgh