High in the Chilean Andes, the Alma radio telescope 10x more powerful than the suddenly amateur-astronomer sized Hubble space telescope is in the works and is scheduled for "first beep" in the year 2012, according to Popular Mechanics.
This scope will enable scientists to get more clarity on the beginning of time and the start of the universe.
Astoundingly, the multi-array concept now used for radio telescopes (where a series of smaller dishes can be focused on the same target, amplifying the signal) also can be used for optical telescopes.
New flexible/computer controlled morphing mirrors enable this. The problem is obtaining focus at one point (prime focus)from all of these diverse sources or alternatively, layering each individual image into an intensified view.
What's at stake?
Getting the light-gathering and resolving power to distinguish individual planetary spheres orbiting distant stars - so that these far away planets look to us on earth as neptune and pluto do through our largest telescopes.
The holy grail would be creating a space telescope that used myriad individual mirrors - perhaps a host of microsatellites, controlled by computer, that would have unparalleled resolving capability - seeing planetary disks around stars in the Magellanic clouds or the Andromeda Galaxy - and zooming in closer and closer - to see from afar which planets might be most hospitable or host valuable resources.
Imagine a backyard telescope built on the same concept - a field of relatively cheap 8-inch mirrors remote controlled and pointed at one object could literally be the world's largest telescope - with unsurpassed light gathering power
One can imagine a neighbor walking by:
"What are you doing with all those mirrors? - it's some kind of eco-geek solar project, right?"
"Not exactly. I'm building the world's largest telescope."
"Really? (doubtful tone)
"Yeah. It'll take me one weekend, maybe two to install all the mirrors - I'm using a modified sprinkler system to control them. The catch is getting them all to focus on one point."
In theory, you could explore the universe from your pc, creating an on-the-fly JPG image or mpeg file, then share it with others.