The Extremely Large Telescope (ELT) is now officially under construction in the Atacama Desert in Chile. There is hope that this device, now much closer to operating, will be able to peer back almost 14 billion years to the first objects that emerged within our universe. When it will be completed and launched, this will be the largest optical telescope ever built, up to five times bigger than almost anything in use today.
ELT, Bigger and Better?
The main mirror of the ELT is nearly 39 meters in diameter, and it will be housed inside a rotating dome over twice that size. It is being built upon a mountain perch in Chile which is over 3,000 meters above sea-level. The telescope itself should go online sometime in the year 2024.
One of its primary uses will be to examine other star systems to detect new exoplanets. This telescope will be able to discover far smaller planets than any other device, and there is hope that it may be able to actually image some of the larger ones. Scientists are also looking for more details about those planets’ atmospheres, which is an essential step in determining if life may be out there.
“What is being raised here is more than a telescope,” said the President of Chile, Michelle Bachelet, at the ground-breaking ceremony. “Here we see one of the greatest examples of the possibilities of science.”
Chile and the Atacama desert were chosen for several reasons, including its proximity to the equator. The high mountains have extraordinarily clear air, and a good vantage point is always essential for star-gazing.
Funded by the European Southern Observatory, the telescope is expected to cost around a billion Euros ($1.12 billion). Now that it is officially under construction, the search for other habitable worlds is closer than ever.
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