Sheffield Café Scientifique

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The quest for ever larger astronomical telescopes

Monday 01 December 2008 [Venue]
Richard de Grijs, Reader in Astrophysics,Dept. of Physics and Astronomy, The University of Sheffield.

Astronomy is in a golden age. It is, in particular, a technology- enabled science: progress in astronomy demands new technologies and new facilities.
In the past half-century a new generation of telescopes and instruments allowed a golden age of remarkable new discoveries: quasars, masers, black holes, gravitational arcs, extrasolar planets, gamma ray bursts, the cosmic microwave background, dark matter and dark energy have all been discovered through the development of a succession of ever larger and more sophisticated telescopes.
In the last decade, satellite observatories and the new generation of 8- to 10-metre diameter ground- based telescopes, have created a new view of our Universe, one dominated by poorly understood dark matter and a mysterious vacuum energy density. This progress poses new, and more fundamental, questions.
As the current generation of telescopes continues to probe the Universe and challenge our understanding, the time has come to take the next step.
A small step in telescope size will not progress these fundamental questions. Fortunately, preliminary studies indicate that the technology to achieve a quantum leap in telescope size is feasible.
A telescope of 50-metre to 100-metre diameter can be built, and will provide astronomers with the ability to address the next generation of scientific questions.