Mountaintop Blasted To Make Room For European Extra Large Telescope
June 21, 2014

Mountaintop Blasted To Make Room For European Extra Large Telescope

Alan McStravick for - Your Universe Online

It could be considered a form astronomical irony. A new telescope, the European Extra Large Telescope, or E-ELT, will be large enough to look all the way back to the beginnings of our universe, perhaps all the way to the famed Big Bang. And, to clear off a plot of land big enough to house the E-ELT in the southern hemisphere, the entire top of a mountain in Chile's Atacama Mountain range was removed with, well, a big bang.

[ Watch the Video: E-ELT Blasting From Very Close-Up ]

The name of this new telescope is not braggadocio or hyperbole, either. The main mirror of the E-ELT will be approximately 128 feet in diameter. Turn your attention to the biggest telescopes in operation today and you will find they just simply don't measure up. As an example, and reported by Wired, the Keck telescopes in Hawaii have mirrors measuring only about 33 feet wide.

The promise of what the E-ELT will deliver is what makes both the professional and amateur stargazer begin to nerd out. With mirrors so large, the telescope will look back across time to observe the formations of the earliest stars and galaxies. The research team behind the telescope also promises new insights into those mysterious universal forces of dark matter and dark energy. But astronomer Jochen Liske has his own exciting vision for the E-ELT, which he works on.

“We want to get direct images of an Earth twin.” We have all seen and heard the many recent stories about super Earths and other Earth-like planets dancing in galaxies far, far away. E-ELT will offer insight into many of these thousands of extrasolar planets we have found recently. A new satellite will be able to determine the chemical and gaseous compositions of the planets. This knowledge will help us to know whether or not the planet is even capable of hosting life as we know it.

The site, Cerro Armazones in Chile, was selected in 2010 after an exhaustive, deliberative process. This mountain was selected not only because it could accommodate the size of the new telescope, but also due to its dramatic rise above the dry Atacama Desert. This environment aids in creating a still and clear atmosphere for the telescope to work in.

The decapitation of Cerro Armazones by blasting will have removed approximately a total of 55 feet from the very top of the 10,000-foot peak. After these blasts, other small and controlled explosions will aid in creating a large, flat surface upon which the observatory will eventually be built.

The next decade promises to be a time of renaissance for the astronomer set. This is because the E-ELT represents just one of the new large telescope projects on the horizon, each gunning to be the world's next premier ground-based telescope facility. Joining the E-ELT will be the Thirty Meter Telescope and the Giant Magellan Telescope, all expected to be built and operational by the early 2020's.