The European Extremely Large Telescope is aptly named. The E-ELT will be the largest optical telescope on the Earth when it is completed in 2024. How big is big? A newly released concept animation video shows the massive scale of the telescope as it sits atop the summit of Cerro Armazones in Chile’s Atacama Desert.
The E-ELT is magnanimous both in hardware and finances. The telescope is several magnitudes larger than existing scopes that have primary mirrors measuring approximately 10 meters in diameter. In comparison, the E-ELT will have a primary reflecting mirror that is 39 meters wide and a protective outer dome that climbs 80 meters high. With all this extra hardware, the E-ELT reflecting telescope will be able to collect more light than all existing 10-meter telescopes combined, making it the most powerful ground telescope to date when it is finished. With its cutting-edge mirrors and adaptive optics technology, the E-ELT will produce outstanding images of our universe that are 15 times sharper than those recorded by the Hubble Telescope.
The telescope is being built through the efforts of the European Southern Observatory (ESO), a 16-nation intergovernmental research group focused on ground-based astronomy. The ESO currently operates some of the world’s largest and most advanced telescopes exploring the southern skies, including the Atacama Large Millimeter Array. The ALMA works in the millimeter and submillimeter wavelength ranges, providing crucial information about star and planet formations. The ALMA currently holds the title of the world’s largest ground-based astronomy project.
The ESO recently signed an agreement with Ace Consortium to build the E-ELT’s dome and structural framework, a $455 million dollar project that is the largest contract awarded by ESO and the largest ever in the history of ground-based astronomy. The mountaintop site for the telescope has been prepared, and ESO is now beginning the building and assembly stage, a process that will take up to eight years. The ESO expects to bring the E-ELT online sometime in 2024.