Photo: European Extremely Large Telescope mockup
The partial demolition of Cerro Armazones, a mountain in northern Chile’s Antofagasta region, marked the start of constructing the world’s largest and most powerful telescope, an instrument capable of capturing 14 times more light than existing telescopes.
At 2:00 p.m. Thursday, the blasting of Cerro Armazones, 3,060 meters (11,800 feet) high, removed from the peak between 25 and 30 meters (80 and 100 feet) of its height in order to create a plain some 200 meters (655 feet) long, on which to mount the European Extremely Large Telescope, or E-ELT, a project of the European Southern Observatory.
On this site will be built a structure 60 meters (200 feet) high and 80 meters (260 feet) in diameter, with mirrors of 39.3 meters (129 feet) which in 10 years will begin to explore the origins of the universe.
The telescope will shed light on the “dark ages” of the universe, when the Milky Way was only 500,000 years old, and thanks to its enormous size it could also contribute to finding extraterrestrial life by detecting whether exoplanets have oxygen in their atmospheres.
The site chosen is located 130 kilometers (80 miles) from the city of Antofagasta and close to 20 kilometers (12 miles) from Cerro Paranal, the mountain where the predecessor of the E-ELT is in operation.
Both the instrumentation and the 798 mirrors that will make up the most powerful telescope ever known will be manufactured over the next two years, with a budget of some $1.5 billion.
The E-ELT is planned to be four times larger than the biggest currently in existence, ESO’S Very Large Telescope.