Chile to get world's largest telescope

European telescope will point 138ft mirror to space

artist renditon of E-ELT
A location in Chile has been chosen as the site for what Europe's leading science and technology organization calls the world's biggest telescope - an optical/infrared telescope (E-ELT) that when built will have a monster primary mirror almost 138 ft (42 meters) in diameter. 

The European Southern Observatory (ESO), an organization of 14 European countries that builds and operates a suite of astronomical telescopes hopes the E-ELT will get a great look at planets around other stars, exoplanets, super-massive black holes, and the nature and distribution of the dark matter and dark energy.  The groups says the E-ELT could revolutionize science's perception of the Universe, much as Galileo's telescope did 400 years ago. 

Hot space projects produce cool cosmic discoveries 

According to the ESO Website, the mirror design is revolutionary and is based on a novel five-mirror scheme that results in what the group calls  exceptional image quality. The primary mirror consists of almost 1000 segments, each about 4.5 ft (1.4 meters) wide, but only about 2 inches (50 mm) thick. The optical design calls for an immense secondary mirror about 20ft (6 meters) in diameter, almost as large as the biggest primary telescope mirrors in operation today, ESO states. 

The specific location, known as Cerro Armazones, beat out a number of other sites in Spain, Argentina and Chile, because it has the best balance atomospheric conditions and what the group called sky quality - it has over 320 clear nights per year. 

THE ESO selected the site and said the final go-ahead for construction is expected at the end of 2010, with the start of operations planned for 2018.  The Chilean Government has agreed to donate to ESO a substantial tract of land containing Armazones in order to ensure the continued protection of the site against all adverse influences, in particular light pollution and mining activities which could ruin the site. 

The Cerro Armazones site is only about 12 miles from another ESO site, the Very Large Telescope. The VLT is an array of four telescopes, each with a main mirror of 26ft in diameter. With one such telescope, images of celestial objects as faint as magnitude 30 have been obtained in a one-hour exposure. This corresponds to seeing objects that are four billion times fainter than those seen with the naked eye, the ESO stated. 

Follow Michael Cooney on Twitter: nwwlayer8   

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