A nice boost for UK astronomy today as the government has placed some serious money behind the country’s involvement in the European Extremely Large Telescope. Supporting the project to the tune of £88 million over 10 years, on top of the annual subscription to ESO, the government hopes to secure a prominent role for UK science and industry in this mega-project. £88 million may seem like a modest amount of money when spread over 10 years, especially when quantified in bankers’ bonuses, but for astronomy it’s a large sum of money that will really drive research and development in both science and technology for the new observatory. Great news.
There’s been a steady trickle of press releases in the news in the last year or two, from ESO or from member countries giving their yes votes to the project. It’s good to see so much support. But the cash isn’t all there yet, as ESO still await the final word on Brazil’s accession.
I’ve spent several years working on technology relevant for the E-ELT and on a design study for one of its instruments, so this telescope lies fairly close to my heart. I’ve stepped away from it somewhat in my time in Heidelberg to focus on other projects, such as the GRAVITY instrument for the VLT Interferometer, but if I continue in my current line of work I will in all likelihood return to E-ELT instrumentation in the next few years. With a planned completion date of mid- to late-2020s, it may well dominate my working life for the next decade and a half. It’s quite amazing to be thinking and planning so far ahead – such is the nature of Big Science!
And who knows, maybe we’ll finally have those jetpacks by then.