Scientists announced plans Friday to duplicate Earth's largest telescope and to link the twin devices to create an observatory able to peer almost to the beginning of time.
The $93.3 million Keck II Telescope will be built next to the nearly completed $94.2 million Keck I Telescope on the island of Hawaii's Mauna Kea volcano, the California Institute of Technology and the University of California announced.Each 10-meter-mirror telescope alone was designed to be larger and more powerful than any other optical or infrared telescope on Earth - literally able to look back in time by seeing light that has been traveling toward Earth for 12 billion years.
When they are electronically linked after Keck II is finished in 1996, the segmented-mirror telescopes should see the universe as it existed 13 billion to 14 billion years ago, said physicist Edward C. Stone, chairman of a Caltech-UC partnership and director of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
For decades, the world's most powerful telescope has been Caltech's 5-meter Hale Telescope at Palomar Mountain northeast of San Diego. It can look at galaxies 8 billion light-years away.
A light-year equals 5.88 trillion miles, the distance light travels in a year. When a telescope sees a galaxy 8 billion light-years away, it is really seeing light emitted by that galaxy 8 billion years ago.
"We'll be looking back to the birth of all the visible universe," when galaxies first formed, Stone said. "It's quite remarkable that we can even think about looking back toward the origin of the universe in which we live."