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In this recent BBC article I read that the European Extremely Large Telescope or E-ELT is in final design and is planned to be on line by 2024, and that (of course) it will rely heavily on adaptive optics (AO) technology.

In a great answer and discussion related to my previous question, it seems that while most AO is actually implemented for infrared imaging, work is being done to push the technology to visible wavelengths.

Will the E-ELT have AO available for visible light imaging in the beginning, will it be phased in later, or is there currently no plan for visible light AO?

note: Adaptive Optics (AO) techniques allow ground based observatories to dramatically improve resolution by actively compensating for the effects of Astronomical Seeing through dynamically deformable optics. AO is also implemented in radio astronomy computationally applied when data from arrays is combined, as described in this answer.

A drawing of the E-ELT from from Wikipedia (note scale of humans):

E-ELT

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From looking at the E-ELT website, it appears that at first light, the AO will only work for near-IR. Specifically, the instrument that can use AO is the MICADO instrument. The description page for this instrument states

MICADO, or the Multi-Adaptive Optics Imaging Camera for Deep Observations, is one of the first-light instruments for the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT) instrument and takes the Adaptive Optics technique to the next level. It will be the first dedicated imaging camera for the E-ELT and works with the multi-conjugate adaptive optics module, MAORY.

MICADO will equip the E-ELT with a first light capability for diffraction limited imaging at near-infrared wavelengths.

The MAORY instrument will be the specific AO instrument which, at first light will operate at

wavelengths from 0.8–2.4µm

So in short, the answer appears to be that the E-ELT will only have AO capabilities for near-IR at first light.

As to whether or not there are plans for visible AO capabilities, I couldn't find anything specific to that question. Given that first light for this project is 8 years away at best, I think that plans for future upgrades are tentative at best, and likely not easily accessible to those not on the project. I will say that while the MAORY instrument appears to be the intended AO system at first light, there is listed a second AO instrument called ATLAS that will eventually make its way onto the telescope. While I can find no specific details of this particular instrument, its possible that this will provide for visible AO.

On a tangentially related note, this telescope will also have active optics that will help to improve their imaging capabilities.

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  • $\begingroup$ Very thorough answer, thanks! So it looks like MAORY actually includes both M4 (the quaternary mirror) inside the telescope as well as another deformable element outside if I read this sentence from your liked page right: "MAORY will use at least two deformable mirrors (including the deformable mirror in the telescope)". Incredible! Can't wait to see (pictures of) it! $\endgroup$ – uhoh May 27 '16 at 14:51

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