Friday, March 15th 2013 - 06:45 UTC

World’s largest telescope at a cost of a billion Euros will be built in Chilean Andes

The Chilean Andes will be the location for the world’s largest telescope: the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT), costing more than €1bn, which will capture the universe's earliest moments.

The E-ELT will be located at Cerro Armazones, a 3.000-metre mountain that lies in the central part of Chile's Atacama Desert

The giant eye on the sky with its 39 metres diameter main mirror made of 798 segments will gather light from distant stars and galaxies: 15 times more than the largest telescopes today.

“Every area of astronomy, from planets around other stars to the first galaxies in the universe, will be revolutionised by this telescope,” said Professor Simon Morris of Durham University.

The giant observatory will become part of an array of telescopes built by the European Southern Observatory organisation in Chile. Built high in the Andes, these instruments avoid much of the atmospheric turbulence that affects observatories at lower altitudes.

The site also allows astronomers to study objects such as the Magellanic clouds which can only be seen in the skies of the southern hemisphere.

“The E-ELT will have almost as much light collecting area as all the telescopes ever built, put together,” said Professor Niranjan Thatte of Oxford University. “Not only will it allow us to see farther into the history of the universe, it will do so with unprecedented sharpness, providing images that are 10 to 15 times sharper than the Hubble space telescope.”

The site selected for the telescope, Cerro Armazones, is a 3.000-metre mountain that lies in the central part of Chile's Atacama Desert, close to Europe's existing facilities at Cerro Paranal, where an array of telescopes has been constructed. Engineers are slicing the top off the peak in preparation for the building of the telescope. Completion is scheduled for 2023.

Eight projects to design special cameras and spectrographs to analyse the data collected by E-ELT are being considered. Astronomers and engineers in the UK are involved in six of them.

Astronomers are keen to stress the possibility of lucrative spin-off developments of their work. Technology developed for astronomy has led to improvements in the diagnosis of eye disease and the performance of industrial lasers, among many other things.

“This project should have huge knock-on effects for other sectors and research fields,” said David Willetts, Minister of universities and science. He added that the UK's investment in the project could also help secure industrial contracts – including the manufacture of some or all of the telescope's mirror segments – that could be worth up to £100m to British industry.

However, it is the scientific dividend of the E-ELT that is causing most interest. With its pinpoint precision, it will examine the evolution of galaxies and black holes and study the distribution of mysterious dark matter, which is believed to permeate the universe but has yet to be observed directly.

“It is the breadth of science that this telescope will undertake that makes it so important,” said Professor Isobel Hook of Oxford University. “We'll be able to explore further into space and in exquisite detail, helping us understand some of the strangest phenomena in our universe – even the possibilities for existence of life on planets elsewhere in the universe”.

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1 Trunce (#) Mar 15th, 2013 - 08:31 am Report abuse
”the possibilities for existence of life on planets elsewhere in the universe”.

If discovered CFK will claim inter galactic support over Falklands.
2 mastershakejb (#) Mar 15th, 2013 - 08:50 am Report abuse
A billion dollars.......that's a bigger foreign investment than any Argentina will be seeing anytime in the near future
3 DennisA (#) Mar 15th, 2013 - 10:23 am Report abuse
Not much inspiration on names these days, it's an extremely large telescope from Europe, so we'll call it the European Extremely Large Telescope. How about The Atacama Telescope?

“The site selected for the telescope, Cerro Armazones, is a 3.000-metre mountain that lies in the central part of Chile's Atacama Desert......”

Correction, WAS a 3.000-metre mountain:
“Engineers are slicing the top off the peak in preparation for the building of the telescope.”

Mountain top removal by coal companies is heavily criticised.
4 Rufus (#) Mar 15th, 2013 - 11:12 am Report abuse
They'd never stick it in Argentina anyway, there'd be no point. The reason that Chile is telescope central is that it combines both very dry air and is very high (so you get less atmospheric, especially water vapour “noise” in the way).
You may as well stick it in North Wales as Argentina.

I think most variations of The Atacama Telescope have already been taken by all of the other telescopes in the Atacama. Although calling it the E-ELT really does show a lack of imagination, perhaps the Lippershey Atacama Telescope (named after Hans Lippershey the Dutch-German spectacle maker credited with inventing them in the first place - may not be actually correct, but was the first to apply for a patent on it in 1608)
5 Condorito (#) Mar 15th, 2013 - 12:49 pm Report abuse
@3 and 4
Yes there are several telescopes in the Atacama so the “Atacama Telescope” just wouldn't do.

10 years ago I worked on concept designs for the hexagonal segments that these very large telescopes' mirrors comprise. The designs were part of a feasibility study for a 50m mirror. A French engineer came up with, what I thought was, a very good name: the OWL (OverWhelmingly Large) Telescope.

ALMA - the largest radio telescope array in the world - was inaugurated yesterday. I was surprised not to see any mention of it in MP.
6 Shed-time (#) Mar 15th, 2013 - 12:55 pm Report abuse
Chile = good
Argentina = bad
Investment in Chile = good
Investment in Argentina = bad
Chile = Rich
Argentina = Poor
Nazi german genetic composition of Argentines = High
Nazi german genetic composition of Chileas = Low
British genetic composition of Chileans = High
British genetic composition of Argentines = Low

I'm sure a simple causation diagram would help me to make sense of these facts.
7 briton (#) Mar 15th, 2013 - 02:06 pm Report abuse
did not argentina have a claim on the andes .
8 Shed-time (#) Mar 15th, 2013 - 02:10 pm Report abuse
@7 They 'took' a lot of the 'south patagonian ice fields' not un-recently where they just felt they would redraw the map. So I wouldn't be surprised if they felt they owned a lot of other things.

There is no end to their territorial nationalism.
9 briton (#) Mar 15th, 2013 - 02:22 pm Report abuse
very true,
when she finaly realises that she wont be getting the falklands,

then she may well turn her attention to others,

if she is still in power..
10 Ayayay (#) Mar 16th, 2013 - 03:04 am Report abuse
@2 a billion EuROs, Mastershake. 1 billion three hundred million -dollars-and-prestige.

Of course, they first wanted to raise this telescope in Hawaii but there was a lot.of cutural heritage opposition because Mauna Kea is sacred, and, all the other telescopes are visible, instead of a peaceful, natural, mountaintop. That said, I love our astronomers.

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