Wednesday, 25 June 2014 | MYT 4:15 PM

Boom! Construction begins on world's largest telescope

Construction on the world’s largest optical telescope starts off with a bang, as workers demolish a hilltop in Chile’s Atacama desert.

The European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT) telescope, being built by the European Southern Observatory, aims to give astronomers new insight into the origins of the universe and help search for potentially habitable planets elsewhere in the galaxy.

“(Currently) we have no proof of the existence of an Earth-like planet at the same distance from the sun in our galactic neighbourhood,” said astronomer Fernando Comeron, ESO’s representative in Chile. “That’s not because they don’t exist but because we don’t yet have the tools to detect them. ”With the E-ELT, we can.”

Construction will take an estimated 10 years, and the telescope will be put into service two years later.

Eyeing the heavens: When the European Extremely Large Telescope, shown above as a digital illustration, is finished in about 10 years, it will be the world's largest optical telescope. Astronomers plan on searching the heavens for Earth 2.0 with its massive array of mirrors.

The first step, costing an estimated US$1.4bil (RM4.5bil), involves razing around 5,000 cubic metres of rock off the top of Mount Armazones, which began on June 19. The newly flat surface will support the foundation of the telescope, with an “eye” — a main mirror — of 39m in diameter.

The new telescope’s light-collecting surface “will be 10 to 15 times greater than those of existing telescopes,” Comeron said. Thanks to its dry and cold climate, and the lack of light pollution from cities in the remote region, Chile’s Atacama desert provides an ideal location for astronomical research.

The ESO, a collaboration involving 15 mainly European countries, operates a number of high-powered telescopes in Chile, including the Very Large Telescope array and the Atacama Large Millimetre/Submillimetre Array, or ALMA. — AFP/RelaxNews

Tags / Keywords: Lifestyle , Features , Science , Astronomy , Chile , European Extremely Large Telescope , European Space Observatory , groundbreaking , construction , work in progress


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