Mountaintop blasted to build huge telescope

Jun 19, 2014

By Rebecca Morelle


The top of a 3,000m-high (10,000ft) mountain in Chile has been blown up to make way for the world’s largest optical and infrared telescope.

A million tonnes of rock were blasted in order to create a level surface on which to build the European-Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT).

At its heart will lie a mirror that is half the size of a football pitch.

This will allow astronomers to look further into space and in more detail than ever before.

The explosion in Cerro Armazones in northern Chile took place just after 1840 BST and was streamed live by the European Southern Observatory.

Dr Aprajita Verma, deputy project scientist for the E-ELT’s UK team at the University of Oxford, said: “The telescope is a really huge step in terms of its scale – it’s so much bigger than anything else.

“It will give us a deeper and finer view of the Universe.”

Now the mountaintop has been levelled, the construction of the E-ELT will begin. It is expected to take less than 10 years.

The site, in the middle of the Atacama desert – and close to the Very Large Telescope – has been chosen because of its near-perfect observing conditions: for most of the year, the sky is cloudless.

The aridity there also means there is little water vapour to cloud its view of space.

One of the most challenging aspects will be to create and install the telescope’s 39m-wide (130ft) primary mirror.

6 comments on “Mountaintop blasted to build huge telescope

  • The high and dry mountain tops of the Atacama are becoming a world centre for astronomy. Fortunately, there is no shortage of mountains at this altitude in the Andes, and very little life beyond the range of the coastal mists.

    Some of the volcanic peaks blow their own tops off regularly!

    @OP – Now the mountaintop has been levelled, the construction of the E-ELT will begin. It is expected to take less than 10 years.

    It’s good to see some people of vision, are prepared to invest in long term projects of value.

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  • Why is it called European-Extremely Large Telescope when it is situated in South America?

    In Earth based astronomy, optical telescopes are placed at locations where the atmosphere and climate give optimum performance. This often means, that the people who construct, operate and pay for them, are from other countries.

    High and dry mountain tops where the atmosphere is thin and free from water vapour and cloud, such as those of the high Andes, are excellent locations.

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  • European Space Organization

    RD site, install continue reading / read more link for articles

    Reading a bit of Darwin’s Beagle voyage, one entry described his awe of the extremely night sky, and seemingly infinite stars. Perhaps it was Charle’s information on the high Andes that lead to future telescope location?

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