On June 11 the European Southern Observatory (ESO) Council gave the go-ahead for the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT) project. The construction phase can now begin on the world's largest-ever infrared/optical telescope.
The Council meeting, which took place yesterday at ESO Headquarters in Garching, Germany, approved the E-ELT design, but established that the project needs to wait for confirmation from four ad referendum votes. This means that the Observatory's Member States need to approve it too.
At this time, the E-ELT is scheduled to see its first light in the early 2020s, although an exact date has not yet been set. Building the most massive telescope in the world is not an easy task, or a cheap one at that. The segmented main mirror at this observatory will have a diameter of 39.3 meters (129 feet).
E-ELT will be built close to ESO’s Paranal Observatory, on a site the Chilean government leased to the European organization on Cerro Armazones. Project managers do not expect to have any difficulties receiving approval from Member States, since most of the latter have already expressed strong support.
In order for the project to move forward, 10 of 13 Member States need to agree to the E-ELT. The Czech Republic, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden and Switzerland have already expressed their approval directly, while Belgium, Finland, Italy, and the United Kingdom did so ad referendum.
“This is an excellent outcome and a great day for ESO. We can now move forward on schedule with this giant project,” ESO Director General, Tim de Zeeuw, said in a statement after the Council Meeting.
“The E-ELT will keep ESO in a leading position for decades to come and lead to an extraordinary harvest of exciting science,” Council President, Xavier Barcons, said after the decision was made.
ESO is already a world leader in optical, infrared and interferometry astronomy. It operates a large number of telescopes, primarily in the Atacama Desert, Chile, and is collaborating on several radio astronomy projects as well.
When completed, the E-ELT will be able to peer all the way into the earliest times of the Universe, analyzing the first stars and galaxies, and potentially providing us with data capable of revealing the nature of the Cosmos.
The European Extremely Large Telescope will dwarf any other optical observatory in the world today. Its main eyes will be 3.3 times larger than that of the most massive installation of this type in existence today, the Large Binocular Telescope (LBT), on Mount Graham.