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World’s Largest Telescope Begins Construction

Photo from ESO

The world’s largest optical telescope will soon be ready. Construction on the European Extremely Large Telescope began on Friday in Chile. When completed, it will be five times bigger than the most advanced observing instruments in existence.

According to its backers, the ELT’s size will help provide valuable insight into scientists’ understanding of the universe, Reuters reports. The telescope’s main mirror will measure 43 yards across. It is designed to be an adaptive telescope, meaning it will be able to correct atmospheric turbulence – a feat in telescope engineering.

The ELT is set to be built on the Cerro Armazones, a 3,000 meter high mountain in the Atacama desert, and is due to start operations in 2024. It will add to and further explain new discoveries of planets that are orbiting other stars, and will have the capabilities to find smaller planets, take image captures of bigger ones and maybe even take a closer look at their atmospheres. These could all help determine if other planets could sustain life, and maybe even offer a glimpse into other life forms that are present outside Earth.

The ELT construction is being funded by the European Southern Observatory, an organization made up of countries in the Europe and the southern hemisphere. The ESO had previously said that the ELT would cost some 1 billion euros to complete.

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet said,

What is being raised here is more than a telescope. Here we see one of the greatest examples of the possibilities of science.

A ceremony was held at ESO’s Paranal residencia, close to the build site, to mark the milestone, reports. Director General of ESO, Tim de Zeeuw was also in attendance.

The Atacama desert has a dry environment, providing near-perfect observing conditions on this planet. Around 70% of the world’s astronomical structures are set to be built in the region by the 2020s.

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