January 5, 2005

Libya Set to Build Huge Telescope

PARIS (AFP) -- Libya has ordered a 13-million-dollar telescope from France, a facility that will give it the finest astronomical views in North Africa, the French magazine Ciel et Espace (Sky and Space) reported.

The telescope, costing nearly 10 million euros, was ordered by Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi, who has a passionate interest in astronomy, the monthly said in its January issue.

Built by Sagem, a French electronics group, the telescope will be two metres (6.5 feet) diameter and remote-controlled.

It will be housed in an air-conditioned building, with a network of four weather stations deployed at a distance of 10 kilometers (six miles) around it to warn of impending sandstorms that could damage its fragile optics.

A range of sites are being looked at, most of them deep in the Libyan desert, whose dry clear air and absence of light pollution from cities will offer excellent visibility.

One of the locations is several hundred kilometers (miles) southwest of the small town of Koufra, at an altitude of 2,200 metres (7,700 feet).

But it is in a politically contested area close to the Chadian border and the area is littered with landmines, Ciel et Espace said.

The telescope is likely to be completed next year, it said.

When finished, it will be the largest in North Africa, although only a quarter or a fifth the size of the latest-generation US and European telescopes.

Other countries in the Middle East also have embryonic plans to build a large telescope in the same size range as Libya's, the article said.

They include a project in Iran; a scheme uniting Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and the Palestinian territories; Algeria, Tunisia and Egypt; and the six Arab countries of the Gulf peninsula.