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ESO instrument METIS passes important design milestone

The METIS instrument that’s being built for ESO's future Extremely Large Telescope (ELT) in Northern Chile under the leadership of the Dutch Research School for Astronomy (NOVA) has reached an important milestone: the preliminary design has been approved.

From baby stars to planet-forming discs

METIS, short for Mid-infrared ELT Imager and Spectrograph, will make full use of the ELT's huge primary mirror to investigate a wide range of scientific topics - from objects in our Solar System to distant active galaxies. METIS is ideally suited to study the life cycle of stars, from baby stars and their planet-forming discs to older stars nearing the end of their lives.

The powerful camera and spectrograph METIS underwent its Preliminary Design Review at the headquarters of the European Southern Observatory (ESO) in Garching, Germany.

The largest infrared telescope in the world

The ELT will be the largest optical to mid-infrared telescope on Earth when it starts operations towards the middle of this decade. With its 39-metre primary mirror and advanced adaptive-optics systems, it will have six times the resolution of the James Webb Space Telescope. Thanks to the ELT's adaptive optics. METIS will take full advantage of this remarkable telescope and its adaptive optics to probe the structure and composition of objects with revolutionary precision.

Ewine van Dishoeck

Importance to the Netherlands

The development of METIS is of great importance to the Netherlands. The Scientific Director of NOVA and Leiden Professor of Molecular Astrophysics Ewine van Dishoeck explains: ‘We are extremely proud of the global METIS team that, under the leadership of NOVA, designed such a cutting-edge instrument. With METIS, Dutch astronomers are at the forefront of the search for possible life on our neighboring planets. METIS will also provide many new insights into the way new planets are being built. But we are also bound to find surprises, discoveries we didn't expect. That's what makes science so exciting!’

Among others, METIS is expected to make large contributions to one of the most dynamic and exciting fields of astronomy for both scientists and the public, exoplanets. The instrument will be able to study the temperature, weather, and seasonal changes of the atmospheres of many giant exoplanets. Furthermore, METIS has the potential to directly detect terrestrial exoplanets around the nearest stars and, in favourable cases, investigate their atmospheric composition.

The Leiden project managers

The Leiden Observatory contributes to the design and construction of this unique instrument, both by housing project management, systems engineering disciplines and calibration, and by integration. 'We are very proud to house the Project Office of this major international project at Leiden Observatory,' says Professor of Infrared Astronomy Bernhard Brandl, Principal Investigator at METIS. 'The consortium is looking forward to the integration, testing and verification of the complete METIS instrument in Leiden.'

Dutch expertise

The Dutch high-tech industry also plays an important role in the construction of METIS. For example, the Maastricht company Janssen Precision Engineering has been involved for several years in the development of an advanced calibration mirror for the instrument. This mirror can switch with high speed and extreme precision between the image to be observed and a calibration background.

Now that the instrument has passed its Preliminary Design Review, the METIS consortium will further develop its design before construction of the instrument actually begins.

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