Construction works for building Extremely Large Telescope (ELT) has commenced in Chile. After completion, the Extremely Large Telescope will become the world’s largest optical telescope which will be five times larger than the top observing instruments that are in use today. The telescope will be constructed at a 3,000 meter-high mountain in the middle of the Atacama desert. The telescope is scheduled to commence its operations in 2024.
The ELT is funded by the European Southern Observatory. The organization comprises of European and southern hemisphere nations. It is expected that construction costs of ELT would come around 1 billion euros at 2012 prices.
The main mirror of the ELT will measure some 39 meters (43 yards) across. This massive size of the mirror will be of immense use to expand our understanding of the universe. The telescope will enhance the ability of astronomers to find more smaller planets, image larger ones, and possibly characterize their atmospheres. These capabilities will be key in understanding if life is present in those planets or not.
The dry atmosphere of the Atacama desert offers perfect observing conditions one can find on Earth. No wonder around 70% of the world’s astronomical infrastructure are slated to be built in the Atacama desert by the 2020s.
European Southern Observatory
Established in 1962, European Southern Observatory is a 16 nation intergovernmental research organization for ground based astronomy. Its observatories are situated in Chile. It has built and operated many technologically advanced telescopes like New Technology Telescope, Very Large Telescope (VLT), Atacama Large Millimeter Array etc.