There are several super telescopes on our planet, including the Keck Observatory and Japan's Subaru Telescope in Hawaii. But one Earth-bound telescope will soon eclipse them. Space.com reports that the world’s largest optical telescope will be built on Cerro Armazones, a mountain in the central part of Chile's Atacama Desert.
The new telescope, to be called the European Extremely Large Telescope, will be a mega-observatory with a primary mirror that is 138 feet wide. Space.com reports that it will cost more than $1.3 billion to construct. In comparison, the Keck Observatory has a 33-foot wide mirror, while Subaru's mirror is only 27 feet wide. The Hubble telescope is only 8 feet wide – but its location in space means it can obtain higher-resolution images.
The Chile location was selected because the region boasts clear skies about 320 nights a year. Spain had originally petitioned to host the new telescope, but the European Southern Observatory (ESO) builders choose Cerro Armazones for its clear skies and its location to nearby power telescopes. One observatory is the Paranal Observatory, home to the Very Large Telescope (VLT). This is about 12 miles (20 km) away from Cerro Armazones.
Tim de Zeeuw is the ESO's director general. As he told Space.com, "This is an important milestone that allows us to finalize the baseline design of this very ambitious project, which will vastly advance astronomical knowledge." De Zeeuw is optimistic about the future of space watching in Chile. He adds, "The transformational scientific capabilities of the E-ELT to the already tremendously powerful integrated VLT observatory guarantees the long-term future of Paranal as the most advanced optical/infrared observatory in the world and further strengthens ESO's position as the world-leading organization for ground-based astronomy."
Space.com reports that construction will begin at the end of 2010, and the telescope should be operational in 2018.
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