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The University of Cologne contributes to developing a new instrument for the European Extremely Large Telescope (ELT)

With a new project in astrophysics instrumentation led by Professor Lucas Labadie, the University of Cologne has become a member of the METIS-Consortium. A new instrument for the ELT with extreme sensitivity and resolution will be developed.

Rendering view of the Extremely Large Telescope of the European Southern Observatory

The mid-infrared instrument METIS at the Nasmyth platform of the ELT

The Institute of Physics I of the University of Cologne has recently become a full partner of a European consortium that aims at building the Mid-infrared ELT Imager and Spectrograph (METIS) for the upcoming European Extremely Large Telescope (ELT). The METIS consortium is composed of almost 100 researchers, engineers, and technicians based in Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Portugal, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.

The European Extremely Large Telescope (ELT) is the most important upcoming project for ground-based astronomy at the international level. About 40 m in diameter, the ELT will be the world’s largest optical and infrared astronomical facility for the next thirty years. It will deliver unprecedented sensitivity and acuity to explore the universe. Several instruments will equip the new giant, and one of them is the METIS instrument that operates in the so-called mid-infrared range, that is from 3 to 20 μm. The Institute of Physics I of the University of Cologne was recently awarded a three-year grant of about 750 k€ from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) to initiate the development of a specific sub-system of the METIS instrument, the so-called ‘Warm Calibration Unit’ (WCU).

This system, which will be assembled together with the METIS cryostat, will offer means over the instrument’s lifetime to accurately calibrate the deep images and the spectra that are going to be acquired. The Cologne team expects to extend the funding of this programme in the upcoming calls. ‘In astrophysics, where faint sources are observed at the limit of the capabilities of the instrument, it is all about accurate calibration and the removal of unwanted noisy signals’, says Professor Lucas Labadie,  METIS co-Investigator who is leading the project at the University of Cologne. ‘After this delicate operation, we will for instance be able to image and characterize in great details the regions around stars where exoplanets may form.’

As a member of the METIS-Consortium, the University of Cologne becomes one of the few universities in Germany to be an active player in the birth of the ELT science. At mid-infrared wavelengths, where our eyes are completely blind, an incredibly rich spectrum of chemical components and dust can reveal us the mechanisms involved in the evolution of galaxies. ‘METIS opens the mid-infrared range to the highest spatial resolution ever achieved in the history of astronomy’, says Professor Andreas Eckart, a member of the Cologne team. ‘We will study in great details the properties of gas and dust in distant active galaxies or even close to the centre of our own Galaxy.’

The University of Cologne, through its Institute of Physics I, has a long tradition in developing astronomical instrumentation for ground- and space-based observatories. Its involvement in METIS further reinforces this tradition. ‘The METIS-Consortium partners are delighted that the University of Cologne has joined the project’, says Professor Bernhard Brandl from the University of Leiden in the Netherlands, who is also the Principal Investigator of METIS. ‘The extensive experience in infrared instrumentation of the team of the Institute of Physics I will be very important for the calibration of this unique instrument.’


Professor Lucas Labadie
University of Cologne
Institute of Physics I
+49 221 470-3493

Press and Communications Team

Robert Hahn
+49 221 470-2396