Giant Chile telescope moves ahead with signing of construction contract

 26 May 2016 - 0:00

Giant Chile telescope moves ahead with signing of construction contract
A handout image released by the European Southern Observatory (ESO) on 25 May 2016 shows an artist’s rendering of the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT), with a main mirror 39 metres in diameter, based on the detailed construction design for the telescope. EPA/ESO/L. 

An Italian consortium that includes Astaldi Spa, Cimolai and subcontractor EIE secured a 400 million euro ($450  million) contract to design, manufacture and assemble the telescope and its protective dome, said the ESO, which is funding the project.

The instrument, dubbed the European Extremely Large Telescope, will cost 1.1 billion euros to get up and running, Roberto Tamai told reporters on a conference call.

With a main mirror 39 meters (128 ft) in diameter, it will be the largest optical/near-infrared telescope in the world, providing images around 15 times sharper than those of the Hubble space telescope, the ESO said.

Ground and road preparation is already complete for the E-ELT, which will be situated on a remote mountain top in Chile's Atacama Desert, the site of numerous telescopes, many attracted by the Atacama's clear skies.

Part of an expected next generation of massive telescopes, it should, when complete, be sensitive enough to detect Earth-sized planets orbiting distant systems and even their atmospheres - which could reveal whether they contain essential life biomarkers such as oxygen.

It will also help astronomers answer questions such as when the first galaxies formed and how fast the universe is expanding.

Although the main construction and operations are now fully funded, some of the later performance enhancements to the telescope will require further funding that has yet to be secured because of delays over the expected membership of Brazil.

($1 = 0.8971 euros)