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E-ELT 10 Years Away from Peering Into the Universe

Dec 05, 2014 04:12 PM EST

Construction of the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT) has been given the green light, meaning this "eye of the sky" is a mere 10 years away from peering into the Universe and revealing all its wonders.

Sitting atop the Cerro Armazones in the Chilean Atacama Desert, the E-ELT is expected to be operational in 2024, thanks to the European Southern Observatory (ESO) that gave the go-ahead. It will use its infrared telescope and its adaptive optics to do things like determine the mass of Earth-sized exoplanets and study the star populations of far-away galaxies.

"The decision taken by Council means that the telescope can now be built, and that major industrial construction work for the E-ELT is now funded and can proceed according to plan. There is already a lot of progress in Chile on the summit of Armazones and the next few years will be very exciting," Tim de Zeeuw, ESO's Director General, said in a statement.

The E-ELT can now be built given that, per a 2012 agreement, 90 percent of the funding required to build the telescope was attained. So far, $1.34 billion has been raised for the project.

At 128 feet (39 meters) wide, this extremely large telescope will be bigger than its neighbor, the ESO's Very Large Telescope on Cerro Paranal.

The first phase, for which contracts will be awarded in 2015, "will get E-ELT up and running," according to de Zeeuw. So 90 percent of the entire project's cost is to go toward Phase I. A funding schedule has yet to be set for Phase II, which will cover what are considered "non-essential elements." This includes one quarter of the telescope's 798 mirror segments and its adaptive optics, which remove distortions caused by Earth's atmosphere normally seen in ground-based telescopes.

While E-ELT will be the biggest "eye on the sky," it is not the only one of its kind.

According to The Space Reporter, the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT), also on a Chilean mountaintop (Las Campanas), is scheduled to become operational in 2021. Likewise, Mauna Kea in Hawaii, the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) is expected to be fully functional in 2022.

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