The European Southern Observatory has given the initial go-ahead to build the world's largest optical/infrared telescope in the world. Called the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT), the Chilean-based telescope will provide insights into the earliest formation of planetary systems and the potential for life to exist elsewhere in the Galaxy.
The telescope, which will be operational early next decade, will be built on a mountain top in Cerro Armazones in Chile. The design calls for a a 39.3 metre diameter primary mirror, a 4.2 meter diameter secondary mirror, and will be supported by adaptive optics and multiple instruments.
Construction will start once the ESO gets further approval from the government of some member states, what's largely considered a formality at this stage.
Given its unprecedented size and design considerations, E-ELT will allow scientists to look deeper and more clearly into space than ever before. Its massive mirror will allow for the study of the atmospheres of extrasolar planets, which could lead to breakthroughs in astrobiology. Astronomers will use the telescope to detect water and organic molecules in proto-planetary discs around stars in the making.
In addition to searching for extrasolar planets, E-ELT will be probing the most distant objects in hopes of providing clues about the formation of the Universe's first objects, including primordial stars, primordial galaxies, and black holes. The telescope is designed to make detailed studies of the first galaxies to follow their evolution over time.
One of the more important and exciting goals of the E-ELT developers is the possibility of making a direct measurement of the acceleration of the Universe's expansion. It will also look for possible variations in the fundamental physical constants with time — a discovery that would have far-reaching consequences for our comprehension of the Universe and the general laws of physics.
Image via ESO.