In the quest for some understanding of our twinkling existence, astronomers have built ever larger telescopes capable of catching and pooling the rare light of remote stars and galaxies.
Over the decades the torch of awe has been passed from mountaintop to mountaintop, from Mount Wilson, from where the expansion of the universe was discovered, to Palomar, home of the famous 200-inch reflector, which reigned supreme for almost half a century, to the cinder cones of Mauna Kea in Hawaii, where the twin 400-inch-diameter Keck Telescopes lord it over 13 others.
And even to space, where the Hubble Space Telescope is a peerless time machine.
Now the torch may be passed again.
Emboldened by the advances of the last two decades, groups of universities, observatories, nations and other research organizations are pondering plans for radical new telescopes that will dwarf even the giants on Mauna Kea and reach even farther into space and further back in time.
The proposals sport Brobdingnagian names like the California Extremely Large Telescope, or CELT; Giant Magellan; or the Overwhelming Large Telescope, OWL, a 100-meter-diameter behemoth being contemplated by a collaboration of European nations. And their proponents promise appropriately outsized scientific results.