Chile — already home to over 40 percent of the world’s astronomical infrastructure — is now set to welcome the biggest telescope on the planet.
Cerro Armazones in the Atacama Desert is officially the future home of the European Southern Observatory’s (ESO) European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT). The 3060-meter peak is 20 kilometres from the center’s Very Large Telescope (VLT), currently the most advanced optical telescope in the world.
The deal was made official last month with a ceremony at ESO’s Paranal Observatory, just before the ESO celebrated its 50th anniversary in Chile. During the event President Sebastián Piñera handed over the paperwork that grants the observatory the right to build on and maintain the land, which includes 140 square miles that will act as protection from light pollution.
The head of state took the opportunity to recognize the greater importance of the project for the country.
“We are taking a great step to consolidate Chile as the world’s capital of astronomy. The Extremely Large Telescope on Cerro Armazones will be the largest eye in the world, an eye that will peer from Chilean skies and will plunge into those secrets that the Universe has not yet revealed,” Piñera said. “Today is a very important day for modern astronomy, and a very important day for Chile, as well.”
The ESO Director General Tim de Zeeuw noted that his latest milestone reflects and reinforces the strong relationship that continues to develop between this institution and the Chilean government.
“The cooperation between Chile and ESO that began 50 years ago has proved not only to be very fruitful and long-lasting, but also to provide exciting opportunities for the future — for the benefit of Chile, for the ESO Member States, and for the progress of science and technology” Zeeuw said. “The E-ELT is clear proof of that.”
With its pristine, dark, and clear night skies, northern Chile is ideal for astronomical discoveries. Between the ESO’s VLT and the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) as well as other observatories in the area, Chile’s skies have led to hundreds of discoveries from stars orbiting the Milky Way black hole to research showing that the Universe is accelerating- a discovery that was awarded the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics.