Telescopes greatly increase the capacity of the pupil and retina of the human eye. In the 21st century, the information perceived by each of the hundreds of telescopes of all kinds is billions of images of the universe.
In the cover image you can see VLT3 telescope, 8.20 meters in diameter, at Cerro Paranal, Atacama, Chile Credit: web “eso.org” J.L. Dauvergne & G. Hüdepohl”.
Throughout the 20th century, the development of glass polishing and aluminizing technologies made it possible to build large mirrors, several meters in diameter, such as the VLT3 seen in the figure.
The brains of Galileo, Kepler, Herschell, Newton and any other genius would be absolutely incapable of handling such a wealth of data.
It is at this time that the technology of computers with the capacity for calculation, storage and organization unimaginable less than a hundred years ago made its appearance.
With the help of computers, great precision has been achieved in the control of both the aiming and the tracking of these enormous telescopes.
All these large telescopes are equipped with mirrors with diameters between 8.10 and 8.40 meters.
The current technology for the construction and polishing of large mirrors imposes these values as a limit to the possible size.
The maximum size of about 8 meters that limits the mirrors has been overcome by using fragmented mirrors, made up of multiple panels.
An example of these is the MMT telescope and the Gran Telescopio Canarias, whose primary mirror is segmented into 36 hexagonal pieces.
The governing bodies of the European Southern Observatory (ESO) approved their budget which already includes the preparatory work to locate the Telescope Extremely Large (E-ELT), the largest to be built on Earth, on Cerro Amazones, in Chile.
Some of the optical components that have already been designed. Among them a mirror 40 meters in diameter.
Importance of computing in Astronomy
Without the contribution of digital computing, all the effort used in the development of telescopes would be practically useless.
Nor do today’s astronomers work in isolation as before.
In addition to the fact that there are now tens of thousands of astronomers, physicists, mathematicians and computer experts.
The Internet communications system facilitates in seconds an exchange of knowledge and information that before 1900 took days, weeks and months.
The adventure of the telescope that began in 1609 with that first observation made by Galileo is far from reaching its end.
Space telescopes and giant telescopes (both those already built and those projected) have conceptions that seem very far from the simple telescope of Galileo.
However, exactly like that rudimentary instrument, all these technological boasts continue to be imprinted, as their main characteristic, the curiosity of their creators, and this curiosity is far from being satisfied.
The mission of the telescopes is always to answer our nagging questions, to try to unravel these elusive mysteries: a) what is our place in the Universe, b) what is our cosmic origin, c) what is our destiny.