Mountain top in Chile exploded to make way for world’s largest optical telescope

E-ELT rendition

Image courtesy ESO

Scientists purposefully blew up a mountain top in northern Chile on Thursday — but don’t worry, it was all for a worthy cause.

The now much flatter Cerro Armazones mountain will soon be home to the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT) — the largest optical/near-infrared telescope in the world.  With a main mirror nearly 128 feet wide, the telescope will be able to gather 15 times more light than any of the largest optical telescopes working today. To make such a massive primary mirror, the piece will be comprised of 798 hexagonal segments, around 4.5 feet wide and 2 inches thick.

And the purpose of this extra large telescope? The extremely cool goal of tracking down alien life.  With the ability to photograph planets orbiting distant stars, the E-ELT will search for Earth-like planets in “habitable zones” where life could potentially exist.  The telescope will also contribute to our understanding of the universe, by measuring the properties of the first stars, galaxies, dark matter and more.

The E-ELT is a project by the European Southern Observatory (ESO), which has dubbed the future telescope “the world’s biggest eye on the sky.” The entire observatory will be remotely controlled by astronomers from a nearby telescope site on the mountain Cerro Paranal.

According to the ESO, the location for the E-ELT needed to be both high and dry, so as to limit interference with any observations.  At an altitude of over 10,000 feet, Cerro Armazones in Chile’s Atacama Desert stood out as the preferred site for the project, since it had the best balance of sky quality.

Now, all of this explosion business may seem very exciting, but get ready for a long wait. The E-ELT won’t be up and running until year 2024.

Get our Top Stories delivered to your inbox: