An innovative project
“If science is not interested in the crazy things, she is likely to miss interesting things. ”
The current scientific advances in astronomy depend on our power of observation. To plumb the depths of the cosmos looking for the earliest objects in the universe, or to search for new planets that can accommodate life around distant stars, astronomers need ever better tools and larger telescopes offering more detailed images of space.
The four largest monolithic mirrors powering the VLT (Very Large Telescope) in Chile measure 8.4 meters in diameter. The European project to build a new telescope called E – ELT (European – Extremely Large Telescope) with a segmented mirror 39 metres in diameter is estimated at 1.2 billion euros.
But as the telescope surface grows, infrastructure constraints as well as material and financial limits pile up. It becomes necessary to develop new techniques.
Professor Antoine Labeyrie from the Collège de France, is the pioneer of interferometry in astronomy. He is at the origin of the use of the optical principle that allows combination of light sources of several telescopes into one much more detailed image, used in the Grand Interferometer two Telescopes (GI2T) at the site of the Observatory of the Cote d’Azur Calern and up to the to the Very Large Telescope (VLTI) in Chile.
But this principle applied to conventional telescopes has several constraints that limit its use and its capabilities. It requires the construction of a ‘delay line’ optics used to exactly synchronize light beams from the telescopes. In addition it monopolizes several telescopes that point to a same star for a combined observation.
It is with this observation that Antoine Labeyrie, now Professor Emeritus at the College de France, imagined and began to realize in France, in the Alpes de Haute Provence, the new concept of the Hypertelescope that promises a revolution in astronomical observation.
Its construction principle avoid any constraint to Interferometry for the exact synchronization of the collected light beams. The light rays reflected in the mirrors of a hypertelescope arrive ‘naturally’ synchronized in the receiving aerial pod and do not need further processing.
His concept of diluted mirror , fragmented on a larger surface, eliminate the size limits of monoblocks telescopes contrained by what the materials can withstand. A hypertelescope requires only one set of lightweight structures to support each of its small mirrors.
His mobile optical gondola system that moves in the air reduces the problems of mobility and opens new perspectives. The hanging basket moves to collect the light beams of the stars reflected by the mirrors and follow them in their displacement which allows both to guarantee the stability of the device of mirrors anchored to the ground and eliminates the mechanical constraints on the displacement of large mirrors.
the hypertelescope is also not limited to a single focal point, but can use any of the virtual focal sphere planned by her mirror above the ground. The basket moves with lightness and will soon be accompanied by other platforms operating in the same space, allowing in one night on a single telescope several simultaneous observations from several different points of the celestial vault.
Eventually, this simple principle allows to multiply the simultaneous use of the hypertelescope for the extremely reduced cost of additional baskets. We get many giant telescopes for the price of one.
If the assumptions hold true, all these strengths of the Hypertelescope will exceed telescopes currently in service around the planet and will offer to the world the best tool ever made for astronomical research.