Time to think big: A call for a giant space telescope

Jun 23, 2014 by Anita Heward
An artist’s concept of the ATLAST telescope under construction in space. This design has a segmented mirror 20 metres across. Credit: NASA/STScI.

(Phys.org) —In the nearly 25 years since the launch of the Hubble Space Telescope (HST), astronomers and the public alike have enjoyed ground-breaking views of the cosmos and the suite of scientific discoveries that followed. The successor to HST, the James Webb Space Telescope should launch in 2018 but will have a comparatively short lifetime.

Now Prof Martin Barstow of the University of Leicester is looking to the future. In his talk at the National Astronomy Meeting (NAM 2014) in Portsmouth on Tuesday 24 June, he calls for governments and space agencies around the world to back the Advanced Technologies Large Aperture Space Telescope (ATLAST), an instrument that would give scientists a good chance of detecting hints of life on planets around other stars.

ATLAST is currently a concept under development in the USA and Europe. Scientists and engineers envisage a telescope with a mirror as large as 20 m across that like HST would detect visible light and also operate from the far-ultraviolet to the infrared parts of the spectrum. It would be capable of analysing the light from planets the size of the Earth in orbit around other nearby stars, searching for features in their spectra such as molecular oxygen, ozone, water and methane that could suggest the presence of life. It might also be able to see how the surfaces of planets change with the seasons.

Within the vision "Cosmic birth to living Earths", ATLAST would study star and galaxy formation in high definition, constructing the history of star birth in detail and establishing how intergalactic matter was and is assembled into galaxies over billions of years.

If it goes ahead, ATLAST could be launched around 2030. Before this can happen, there are technical challenges to overcome such as enhancing the sensitivities of detectors and increasing the efficiencies of the coatings on the mirror segments. Such a large structure may also need to be assembled in space before deployment rather than launching on a single rocket. All of this means that a decision to construct the telescope needs to happen soon for it to go ahead.

Prof Barstow is the President of the Royal Astronomical Society, but is speaking in a personal capacity. He sees ATLAST as an ambitious but extraordinary project. He commented:

"Since antiquity human beings have wondered whether we really are alone in the universe or whether there are other oases of life. This question is one of the fundamental goals of modern science and ATLAST could finally allow us to answer it.

'The time is right for scientific and space agencies around the world, including those in the UK, to take a bold step forward and to commit to this project."

Explore further: Student shows James Webb Space Telescope will be able to observe afterglows from earliest gamma-ray bursts

More information: www.nam2014.org/

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Egleton
3.7 / 5 (3) Jun 23, 2014
At the South Pole there is descending air and ice.
Place a circular rail on the ice. Build a bridge over the rail on the diameter. Make the diameter as large as possible.
The bridge is on wheels and rotates about the center of the circle.
Water is sprayed from the bridge to build a giant convex lens of clear ice.
The lens is polished to perfection.
Aluminum is sprayed on the Ice.
Carbon fibers are sprayed onto the aluminum. Piezo crystals are placed on the carbon layer.
A supporting frame of your choice is laid over the crystals.
A current is passed through the aluminum to heat it and separate it from the ice.
Hydrogen is forced between the aluminum and the ice.
The structure floats away and is guided to the side, where it is allowed to flip over and settles on the surface.
Repeat the process.
The next structure is not allowed to flip over but is brought down onto the first and the edges are sealed with a gentle explosive paste..
Two linear accelerators and rocket are attached to the
Egleton
3.7 / 5 (3) Jun 23, 2014
outside.
The construction is filled with hydrogen.
It is floated to the edge of space. The rocket takes the structure up to an altitude where the linear accelerators' thrust is sufficient to overcome atmospheric drag.
The steady thrust of the accelerators take the vessel out of Earth's gravitational well, where the gentle explosive separates the construction. The two halves then go to L4 and L5.
A camera is placed at the focal point of the lens. Distortions are corrected by the piezo electric crystals.
The direction of the two giant lenses is coordinated to yield binocular views of exoplanets.
This information is presented in an auditorium on the earth as a holographic model.
GuruShabu
3 / 5 (2) Jun 23, 2014
At the South Pole there is descending air and ice.
Place a circular rail on the ice. Build a bridge over the rail on the diameter. Make the diameter as large as possible.
The bridge is on wheels and rotates about the center of the circle.
Water is sprayed from the bridge to build a giant convex lens of clear ice.
The lens is polished to perfection.
Aluminum is sprayed on the Ice.
Carbon fibers are sprayed onto the aluminum. Piezo crystals are placed on the carbon layer.
A supporting frame of your choice is laid over the crystals.
A current is passed through the aluminum to heat it and separate it from the ice.
Hydrogen is forced between the aluminum and the ice.
The structure floats away and is guided to the side, where it is allowed to flip over and settles on the surface.
Repeat the process.
...
Love it!
Ideas are important and we have plenty here!
alfie_null
not rated yet Jun 24, 2014
Ideas are important

So is knowledge.

Ice is abundant all over the earth. We've been building refrigerated rinks for a long time. But not using it in making lenses or mirrors. Why? Mirrors have substrates. Why? Aluminum deposition is done in a vacuum. Why? Bearing in mind the targets will be many light years distant, the L4/L5 binocular view for what reason?