TIME astronomy

Workers Blow Up a Mountain to Make Room for a Huge Telescope

Artist's impression of the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT) in its enclosure on Cerro Armazones, a 3060-metre mountaintop in Chile's Atacama Desert. The 39-metre E-ELT will be the largest optical/infrared telescope in the world — the world's biggest eye on the sky. Operations are planned to start early in the next decade, and the E-ELT will tackle some of the biggest scientific challenges of our time. The design for the E-ELT shown here is preliminary.
Artist's impression of the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT) in its enclosure on Cerro Armazones, a 3060-metre mountaintop in Chile's Atacama Desert. L. Calçada—ESO

Move over, Chilean mountaintop

Half-a-ton of stone was blasted off the Cerro Armazones Mountain in Chile on Thursday to make room for what will be the world’s largest telescope: the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT).

Shortening the 9,800-ft. mountain is only the latest step in the process of building the 42 m., 5500-ton giant. The E-ELT had been conceived in 2005 at the European Southern Observatory (ESO) to be “the world’s biggest eye on the sky,” with the goal of identifying more Earth-like planets and advancing cosmological research. The telescope will operate by 2018, according to the ESO, which is based in Chile.

The name, oddly ordinary for a groundbreaking technology, follows a trend of astronomers’ obsession with telescope diameter: the larger, the higher quality imaging and detection. The ESO’s four Very Large Telescopes are only 8.2 m. in diameter, and the Hubble Space Telescope is only 4.2 m. The E-ELT’s whopping 42 m. will allow it to gather 15 times more light than any other telescope operating today.

The E-ELT became the ESO’s primary focus after the organization decided its plan for a 100 m. Overwhelmingly Large Telescope was unfeasible.

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