Prospects for Extremely Large Telescopes

With the successful completion of the segmented-mirror Keck telescopes in the mid-1990s it was natural for the astronomers at Caltech and UC to consider scaling up the idea to something larger. The report for the California Extremely Large Telescope (CELT) was issued in 2000, with a possible design for a 30 m telescope and a proposed construction timetable that would have led to an aperture doubling time of only 20 years after Keck I. However, the considerable cost of this "Extremely Large telescope" or ELT was prohibitive, not only to build but also to operate. After a period of time the California universities merged their efforts with those of the U.S. and Canadian national observatories, in what is now termed a public-private partnership. Both of those organizations had carried out studies of their own for a Giant Segmented Mirror Telescope (GSMT) and a Very Large Optical Telescope (VLOT). The partnership was later renamed the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) project and Gary Sanders (Caltech) was appointed as the Project Manager. Due to conflict-of-interest issues, the U.S. National Observatory later withdrew its direct participation in the TMT project. Other large consortia also formed with the intention of building an ELT using one of the other technologies. The Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT) is a project to build a multiple mirror telescope with an effective aperture of 20 m using the borosilicate honeycomb technology and individual primaries of 8.4 m. Around the same time period, the European Southern Observatory consortium of nations began to consider a truly enormous telescope with a diameter of 100 m. Dubbed the OWL, for Over-Whelmingly Large telescope, many important studies were carried out to discover the problems and challenges of such an undertaking. At the time of writing, the European ELT is now scaled back to a proposed aperture of 42m.

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