Beyond Bird Watching: World’s 5 Largest Telescopes

World's Largest Telescopes

(Images via: Spie, Wainscoat, Space Today, Space Today)

Perhaps you own a pair of bird watching binoculars to study all types of winged friends and get a better understanding of how they function everyday. Or maybe you have a telescope set up in your bedroom or on your back porch to get up close and personal with stars in galaxies far away. While these tools provide amazing views to what’s happening around us, imagine having the power of some of the world’s largest telescopes to probe even deeper. Learning about the biggest telescopes and what they are able to show us in the solar system is a truly revealing experience; now only if we had the opportunity to play around with some of these gadgets.

Bumble Bee Man: “World’s Largest Telescope Es Muy Grande”

Gran Telescopio Canarias

(Images via: Answers, Gran Telescopo Canarias (GTC)

No, it’s not R2-D2 but the world’s largest telescope, the recently completed and appropriately named Gran Telescopo Canarias (GTC). Located in the Canary Islands, this optical telescope features an aperture (a hole or opening where light travels) of 10.4 meters and includes a 34.1 foot primary mirror that allows it to probe the universe in great detail. One of the first big money shots from this telescope off the coast of Spain was the interacting galaxies UGC 10923, as seen in the cool image on the lower left. Now how’s this for astronomical? GTC cost $180 million. Talk about mucho dinero.

More than a “Keck” on the Cheek

Keck Interferometer

(Images via: Photo Journal, Astro)

Located in Mauna Kea, Hawaii, the Keck Interferometer is the world’s second largest telescope with an aperture of 10 meters. Now don’t worry – there’s no need to be intimidated by this telescope’s size or its name. The Keck Interferometer is actually composed of twin telescopes — Keck and Keck II — with each mirror composed of 36 segments and capable of being operated on their own or together. By combining light from the duo telescopes, the Keck Interferometer offers the potential for much insight, including the opportunity to measure the disks around beautiful Young Stellar Objects (YSOs) like the amazing scene on the left in the above montage.

Certainly Not for Shaking on Your Fries or Steak

SALT -- Southern African Largest Telescope

(Images via: McDonald Observatory)

With an aperture of roughly 10 meters, the world’s third largest telescope is named SALT, which stands for the Southern African Large Telescope. Oh, how it all comes together. In addition to bringing the cosmos together with its precise pointing and tracking (as the above picture beautifully illustrates), SALT was designed in such an efficient manner that it only cost a fifth of what typical 10-meter telescopes run for nowadays. Talk about getting a bang for your buck. The largest single telescope in the Southern Hemisphere, SALT can record stars, galaxies and quasars 1 billion times too faint for the human eye.

Imitation: The Sincerest Form of Flattery


(Images via: Space Today, Science Daily, USM)

While it may have a smaller aperture (9.2 meters) than SALT, the world’s fourth largest optical telescope – the Hobby-Eberly in Mt. Fowlkes, Texas – is the very model in which the Southern African Large Telescope was based and secretly wishes it could be (just joking). In addition to having the respect of its peers, the Hobby-Eberly impresses with its ability to operate quite well on a budget: a fixed elevation-axis design and innovative star tracking system reportedly resulted in an initial 80% reduction in costs as compared to other telescopes of similar size. Going strong after ten years, this optical telescope can also put discovering the 123rd planet beyond the solar system on its list of accomplishments.

No Lack of Confidence Here


(Images via: Mt. Graham International Observatory, Mt. Graham International Observatory, Galactic Water Cooler)

Currently being constructed in Mt. Graham, Arizona, the world’s fifth largest telescope – the Large Binocular Telescope — doesn’t beat around the bush in terms of its name. When it is completed, the Large Binocular Telescope will have a 9.2 aperture and a pair of 8.4 meter mirrors that will reportedly allow it to image planets outside the solar system and provide a glimpse of what it was like near the beginning of time. While having a lot to live up to, one thing going for the Large Binocular Telescope is the fact it looks like a Transformer.