Construction of European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT), the world’s largest optical and infrared telescope, has finally started in Chile. On Friday, Michelle Bachelet, the President of Chile, inaugurated the construction work of this telescope, slated to be installed on a high mountain on Cerro Armazones in the middle of Atacama Desert.

Atacama region in Chile, with its dry atmosphere, offers ideal observing conditions to astronomers for observing the vast universe. By 2020, about 70 percent of the world's astronomical infrastructure is slated to be located in Atacama region.

Main features of E-ELT

E-ELT will be installed about 20 km from ESO’s Very Large Telescope on Cerro Paranal. This project is being funded by the European Southern Observatory (ESO) organization whose members include European and southern hemisphere countries. In 2012, ESO had estimated the cost of this megastructure project to be around 1 billion euros. When completed, the telescope will be about five times bigger than many of its current counterparts. The most amazing feature of E-ELT is its 39-meter-wide main mirror that will allow the telescope to gather about 13 times more light than other optical telescopes in use today. The rotating dome of the telescope will have a diameter of about 85 meter and a total mass of approximately 5000 tonnes.

The telescope will have capabilities to correct for the atmospheric distortions from the start. The images captured by E-ELT will be about 16 times sharper than Hubble’s images. It will add immensely to current astrophysical knowledge by locating even small planets that are difficult to spot using current telescopes. E-ELT will also be able to characterize atmospheres of smaller planets, thus helping scientists find possibilities of presence of life of these planets.

E-ELT will also help scientists understand the origin and nature of galaxies, dark sectors, and black holes in the universe.

Contract for construction of dome and telescope structure

Last year, ESO had awarded a contract to ACe Consortium for construction of the dome and telescope structure of E-ELT. ACE Consortium consists of Cimolai, Astaldi, and nominated sub-contractor EIE Group.

The contract was signed in Garching bei München, Germany, and was the largest contract ever awarded by ESO. The contract included the design, construction, transport, on-site assembly and verification of telescope and dome structure.

In her inauguration speech, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet described E-ELT as a great example of “the possibilities of science." E-ELT is expected to start operations in 2024.