A very large telescope is going to be built in Chile that may be strong enough to detect alien life on distant worlds. Construction of the largest telescope ever made is set to begin on Cerro Armazones, a remote mountain in Chile. The new telescope is going to be ten times larger than any other surface telescope ever built. The name of the telescope is not very creative but it is accurate. The telescope has been named the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT).
Cerro Armazones is a large mountain that dominates the peaks of the Chilean Coast Range north of Santiago. When engineers are done removing the top of the 10,000ft mountain it will look quite different. Project engineer Gerd Hudepohl told The Guardian, “We are going to blast it with dynamite and then carry off the rubble. We will take about 80ft off the top of the mountain to create a plateau – and when we have done that, we will build the world’s biggest telescope there.”
Just as the name suggests the new telescope is going to be extremely large. According to iflscience.com, “The main mirror will be 39 meters in diameter, which is far too large to be installed in one piece. It will use nearly 800 mirror segments that are each 1.4 meters in diameter. Each piece will have to be installed with incredible precision, as even microscopic variations can alter the images.”
This isn’t the first time Gerd Hudepohl has been asked to complete a feat of engineering of this scale. A decade ago he was the chief engineer for a project that built several Very Large Telescopes (VLTs) on a mountain just 20km away on another remote peak, Cerro Paranal. However, this time the telescope will be larger than all the telescopes on Cerro Paranal put together.
Cerros Armazones was selected because of the incredibly dry air surrounding the area. Cambridge University astronomer
Professor Gerry Gilmore told The Guardian,
“The atmosphere here is as dry as you can get and that is critically important. Water molecules obscure the view from telescopes on the ground. However, if you build your telescope where the atmosphere above you is completely dry, you will get the best possible views of the stars – and there is nowhere on Earth that has air drier than this place.”
Early next decade scientists will be able to begin using the telescope to target Earth-like exoplanets in their host star’s “goldilocks zone.” Discovering alien life would be one of the greatest achievements in astronomy ever.