UK ATC team to start work on world’s largest telescope
15 May 2024



Engineers receive green light to begin manufacturing METIS for the Extremely Large Telescope.

Computed generated image of the final astronomy instrument METIS.

​The ELT is currently under construction in the middle of the Chilean Atacama Desert and, at approximately the size of the Roman Colosseum, is set to be the largest optical telescope ever built.

It is owned by the European Southern Observatory who announced this week that construction of the first scientific instrument for the telescope will begin at various sites, including UK ATC in Edinburgh.

​It will comprise of several scientific instruments,​ including METIS (The Mid-infrared ELT Imager and Spectrograph) which is the first ELT instrument to pass its Final Design Review and so will be the first to be manufactured ahead of scientific operations beginning sometime in 2028.

METIS is a key component of ELT and will focus on the study of planet-forming discs of gas and dust that could hold critical information on galaxy formation and evolution.

​METIS will be capable of recording light signals from space in the mid-infrared spectrum, and in doing so offers a number of advantages to ELT astronomers. Visible light emitted from planet-forming discs for example is typically absorbed by dust particles and so observing in mid-infrared is the only way to fully study these raw materials for planets and other celestial bodies. Additionally, colder objects like planets mostly radiate light in the mid-infrared, and so METIS will be well placed to contribute to the search for habitable worlds.

​Professor Gillian Wright, Director at UK ATC, said: “I am extremely proud of the role that UK ATC plays in working with the European Southern Observatory and endeavours like the ELT construction. 

“We are living in a golden age for astronomy that is the result of widespread collaboration across borders and the technological leaps that this enables. 

“The METIS instrument will be invaluable to ensure that the ELT can look more precisely than ever before at mid-infrared light, in a bid to change our understanding of our place in the universe."

METIS is designed and will be manufactured by the international METIS Consortium which is made up of more than ten world-leading astronomical research institutes. 

The 8-person UK ATC team working on METIS pictureed in the lab holding up a scale model of the instrument.With its role in the METIS consortium, UK ATC is building on its technical leadership of MIRI (the Mid Infrared Instrument) for the James Webb Space Telescope by contributing the LMS, METIS' infrared spectrometer. 

The LMS will exceed MIRI's spectral resolution by a factor of 30 and its spatial resolution by a factor of 6, opening new vistas in the study of star and planet formation.

The European Southern Observatory is itself an international consortium which brings together 16 member states to design, build, and operate the most advanced ground-based observatories in the world, and to foster international collaboration for astronomy.

​The UK, via the Science and Technology Facilities Council, is the second largest funding contributor of ESO and provides a range of expertise and services through institutions such as UK ATC to support its scientific operations.​​

Find out more about METIS.