Extremely Large Telescope in Chile gets the green light

The gigantic astronomical installation will be constructed by the European Southern Observatory in the Atacama Desert.

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Construction on the world’s biggest telescope will go ahead in Chile after the Chilean government reached a historic agreement with the European Southern Observatory (ESO).

The European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT) will be built on Cerro Armazones mountain in the Atacama Desert, a site chosen back in 2010 and granted to the ESO by the Chilean government for a period of 50 years.

The government also agreed to create a 140 square mile (362 square kilometer) buffer zone around the telescope to avoid interference from light pollution and mining activities.

With a principal mirror measuring 131ft (40m), the E-ELT will set new standards for optical ground-based telescopes.

The site for the new telescope is only 12.4 miles (20km) from the Paranal Observatory, which already houses the ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) and several other tracking telescopes, and it is expected that the two installations will be able to share vital infrastructure.

The Chilean government has committed to maintaining the roads that will connect the new telescope with the northern port city of Antofagasta and it will guarantee the site’s power supply by providing a stable connection to the national electricity grid. Through the agreement it also agreed to support research into possible renewable energy sources for the new site.

“Our country contains the cleanest skies on the planet and for that reason, it is home to the most important astronomical observatories,” Chile’s Foreign Minister, Alfredo Moreno, said in a statement.

“It is part of our natural wealth and it is also part of our contribution to humanity.”

Under the agreement the ESO will dedicate three-quarters of observation time at the new observatory to local astronomers, who will work in collaboration with ESO scientists.

It is expected that the construction on the telescope will begin in 2012 with operations ready to begin in 2022.

With an investment of US$1.45 million, the E-ELT is the ESO’s most ambitious project to date.

As well as the VLT, the European-based organization also operates two other observatories in Chile at La Silla and Llano de Chajnantor.