METIS passes design milestone

METIS, the future Imager and Spectrograph of the Extremely Large Telescope (ELT) has just successfully passed its preliminary design review at ESO headquarters. This state-of-the-art equipment, in which researchers from the PSILab (UR STAR / Faculty of Sciences) of the University of Liège are collaborating, will have the capacity to image and study exoplanets, and possibly even detect signatures that could be linked to biological activity on the surface of a planet detected around a nearby star.

METIS (Mid-infrared ELT Imager and Spectrograph), the infrared imager of the future Extremely Large Telescope (ELT), a European project led by the European Southern Observatory (ESO), has just successfully passed an important preliminary design phase at the ESO headquarters in Garching, Germany. The imager will use the ELT's giant main mirror to study a wide range of scientific subjects, from objects in our solar system to distant active galaxies. METIS will be extremely well suited to study the life cycle of stars, from nascent stars and planetary disks to older stars at the end of their lives. The University of Liège -  stakeholder in this project - and more particularly the researchers of the PSILab (STAR Research Unit / Faculty of Science) are delighted with the success of this new step. “The University of Liège's contribution to the METIS instrument consists in developing all the direct imaging modes for exoplanets, which are necessary to achieve its ambitious objectives," explains Olivier Absil, FRS-FNRS Research associate and director of the PSILab. In particular, ULiège will provide a series of coronagraphs to enable detailed studies of the direct environment of stars located in our galactic neighbourhood. "» 

The Extremely Large Telescope - scheduled to be commissioned in 2025 at the Cerro Armazones site in Chile - will be the largest mid-infrared optical telescope on Earth. Equipped with a 39-metre primary mirror and advanced adaptive optics systems, the ground-based telescope will have six times the resolution of the James Webb Space Telescope (scheduled for launch in March 2021). METIS will take full advantage of this remarkable telescope and its adaptive optics to probe the structure and composition of objects with revolutionary accuracy. METIS is expected to make major contributions to one of the most dynamic and exciting areas of astronomy for scientists and the public: exoplanets. The instrument will be able to study the temperature, weather and seasonal changes in the atmosphere of many giant exoplanets. In addition, METIS has the potential to directly detect a few Earth-like exoplanets around the nearest stars and, in the best cases, to study the composition of their atmosphere.

ULiège's contribution to METIS is coordinated by Olivier Absil, FRS- FNRS Research associate and co-investigator of the METIS instrument. This contribution has been made possible thanks to funding from the European Research Council (ERC Consolidator Grant), which Olivier Absil was awarded in 2018 for his EPIC project.

Researchers from the PSILab team involved in this project: Olivier Absil, Denis Defrère, Christian Delacroix, Gilles Orban de Xivry, Matthew Willson, Anne-Lise Maire and Lorenzo König.


The Cerro Armazones mountain in the Chilean desert, near ESO's Paranal Observatory, will be the site for the European Extremely Large Telescope (ELT), which, with its 39-metre diameter mirror, will be the world’s biggest eye on the sky. Here, an artist's rendering shows how the telescope will look on the mountain when it is complete. Credit : ESO/L.Calçada

The METIS consortium

  • NOVA (Dutch School for Research in Astronomy represented by the University of Leiden, The Netherlands),
  • Max Planck Institute for Astronomy (MPIA, based in Heidelberg, Germany)
  • University of Cologne (Germany)
  • United Kingdom Astronomy Technology Centre (UKATC, in Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom)
  • KULeuven (Belgium)
  • Saclay Nuclear Research Centre (CEA Saclay, France)
  • Centre for Astrophysics and Gravitation (CENTRA), University of Lisbon, Portugal)
  • ETH Zürich (Switzerland)
  • A* (an Austrian partnership represented by the University of Vienna, the University of Innsbruck, the University of Graz, the University of Linz and RICAM Linz, Austrian Academy of Sciences, Austria)
  • University of Michigan at Ann Arbor (United States)
  • Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysics Academia Sinica in Taipei (Taiwan)
  • University of Liège (Belgium)

with contributions from ESO.

Illustration : Artist depiction of the METIS instrument set to be used with the Extremely Large Telescope upon completion. METIS, short for Mid-infrared ELT Imager and Spectrograph, will make full use of the giant main mirror of the telescope to study a wide range of science topics, from objects in our Solar System to distant active galaxies. Credit : ESO/METIS Consortium/L. Calçada

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