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ESOcast 48 Special: Building Big

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This is the ESOcast! Cutting-edge science and life behind the scenes of ESO, the European Southern Observatory, exploring the ultimate frontier with our host Dr J, a.k.a. Dr Joe Liske. Hello and welcome to this special episode of the ESOcast. Leading up to ESO’s 50th anniversary in October 2012, we will showcase eight special features portraying ESO’s first 50 years of exploring the southern sky. Building Big Astronomy is big science. It’s a vast Universe out there, and the exploration of the cosmos requires huge instruments. This is the 5-metre Hale reflector on Palomar Mountain. When the European Southern Observatory came into being, fifty years ago, it was the largest telescope in the world. ESO’s Very Large Telescope at Cerro Paranal is the state of the art now. As the most powerful observatory in history, it has revealed the full splendour of the Universe in which we live. But astronomers have set their sights on even bigger instruments. And ESO is realising their dreams. San Pedro de Atacama. Tucked amidst breathtaking scenery and natural wonders, this picturesque town is home to indigenous Atacameños and adventurous backpackers alike. And ESO astronomers and technicians. Not far from San Pedro, ESO’s first dream machine is taking shape. It’s called ALMA – the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array. ALMA is a joint project of Europe, North America and East Asia. It operates like a giant zoom lens. Close together, the 66 antennas provide a wide-angle view. But spread apart, they reveal much finer detail over a smaller area of sky. At submillimetre wavelengths, ALMA sees the Universe in a different light. But what will it reveal? The birth of the very first galaxies in the Universe, in the wake of the Big Bang. Cold and dusty clouds of molecular gas — the stellar nurseries where new suns and planets are born. And: the chemistry of the cosmos. ALMA will track down organic molecules — the building blocks of life. Construction of the ALMA antennas is in full swing. Two giant transporters, called Otto and Lore, take the completed antennas up to the Chajnantor Plateau. At 5000 metres above sea level, the array provides an unprecedented view of the microwave Universe. While ALMA is nearly completed, ESO’s next dream machine is still a few years away. See that mountain over there? That’s Cerro Armazones. Not far from Paranal, it will be home to the largest telescope in the history of mankind. Meet the European Extremely Large Telescope. The world’s biggest eye on the sky. Sporting a mirror almost forty metres across, the E-ELT simply dwarfs every telescope that preceded it. Almost eight hundred computer-controlled mirror segments. Complex optics to provide the sharpest possible images. A dome as tall as a church steeple. The E-ELT is an exercise in superlatives. But the real wonder, or course, is in the Universe out there. The E-ELT will reveal planets orbiting other stars. Its spectrographs will sniff the atmospheres of these alien worlds, looking for biosignatures. Further away, the E-ELT will study individual stars in other galaxies. It’s like meeting the inhabitants of neighbouring cities for the first time. Working as a cosmic time machine, the giant telescope lets us look back billions of years, to learn how everything began. And it may solve the riddle of the accelerating Universe — the mysterious fact that galaxies are pushed away from each other faster and faster. Astronomy is big science, and it’s a science of big mysteries. Is there life beyond Earth? What's the origin of the Universe? ESO’s new monster telescope will help in our quest to understand. We’re not there yet, but it won’t take long. So what’s next? Well, no one knows. But ESO is ready for the adventure. This is Dr J, signing off from this special episode of the ESOcast. Join me again next time for another cosmic adventure. ESOcast is produced by ESO, the European Southern Observatory. ESO, the European Southern Observatory, is the pre-eminent intergovernmental science and technology organisation in astronomy. Among both ground- and space-based observatories, ESO is the most productive observatory in the world. Transcription by ESO; translation by —

Video Details

Duration: 8 minutes and 36 seconds
Country: Germany
Language: English
Producer: Lars Lindberg Christensen
Director: Lars Lindberg Christensen
Views: 155
Posted by: esoastronomy on Jun 14, 2012

Leading up to ESO’s 50th anniversary in October 2012, we are releasing eight special ESOcasts, each a chapter from the movie Europe to the Stars — ESO’s First 50 Years of Exploring the Southern Sky. ESOcast 48 — entitled Building Big — is the eighth and final special episode of this series. It relates how ESO - based on its experience over the past fifty years as the most powerful observatory in History - is going to realise the everlasting longing of astronomers: the construction of even bigger telescopes. More information and credits: http://www.eso.org/public/videos/esocast48a/

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