Europe to build world’s biggest telescope powerful enough to see mountains on planets beyond our solar system

Jun 16, 2012 No Comments by

A coalition of 15 European countries has announced plans to build the biggest telescope in the world.

The mirror inside the telescope will measure 39metres across – four times wider than today’s biggest telescope – and it will be so powerful that astronomers will even be able to observe dark, rocky planets far beyond our solar system.

The European Southern Observatory project is supported by 15 members of the European Union and has the catchy name ‘European Extremely Large Telescope’… even if it will be built in Chile, to avoid light pollution.

The twin infrared/optical telescope will sit on top of a 3,060metre mountaintop, giving unparallel views of the sky above, and should hopefully come online in 2022.

An artist’s impression of the European Extremely Large Telescope on Cerro Amazons, a 3,060-metre mountaintop in Chile’s Atacama Desert: For comparison, look at the size of the cars

Another artist’s impression shows the Milky Way gleaming behind the telescope, which will hopefully help astronauts observe exo-solar system planets

Astronomers hope the observatory will help provide insights into the formation of galleries and the nature of black holes

They also hope to shed light on two of the biggest mysteries of our universe – the formation of ‘dark matter’, which cannot be directly observed but is hypothesized to make up most  of the mass of the universe, and ‘dark energy’, which appears to driving the universe to expand at an accelerating rate.

ESO agreed to the optical/infrared telescope in Garching, Germany, (E-ELT) Programme, pending confirmation of final referendums.

All of ESO’s member states have already expressed very strong support for the E-ELT project.

At the council meeting, Austria, the Czech Republic, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden and Switzerland voted in favor of the start of the E-ELT programme.

The 39.3-metre E-ELT will be the largest optical/infrared telescope in the world

Four further countries voted in favor ad referendum: Belgium, Finland, Italy, and the United Kingdom.

The project has an estimated cost of 1083million euro, or £872m.

ESO director general, Tim de Zeeuw said: ‘This is an excellent outcome and a great day for ESO.

‘We can now move forward on schedule with this giant project.’

2012 marks the 50th anniversary of the founding of the ESO. It is supported by 15 countries: Austria, Belgium, Brazil, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

The teams operate three observing sites in Chile: La Silla, Paranal and Chajnantor.

At Paranal, ESO operates the Very Large Telescope, the world’s most advanced visible-light astronomical observatory and two survey telescopes.





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