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World’s largest telescope gets green light for construction

The European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT)—the largest such ground-based instrument in the world—is on track to begin operations in 2024, officials announced Thursday.

“The decision taken by the Council means that the telescope can now be built, and that major industrial construction work for the E-ELT is now funded and can proceed according to plan,” said Tim de Zeeuw, director general of the European Southern Observatory (ESO), in a statement. “There is already a lot of progress in Chile on the summit on Armazones and the next few years will be very exciting.”

The giant telescope, which will sit atop the Chilean peak Cerro Armazones at an elevation of more than 10,000 feet (3,000 meters), will have a light-collecting surface with a 128 feet (39 meter) diameter.

Construction of what the ESO calls the world’s largest ‘eye on the sky’ was approved by its governing body in June 2012, but only on condition that contracts worth more than 2 million euros would be awarded only after 90 percent of the telescope’s funding was secured. An exception was made for civil works at the site, which began in June 2014.

Costs are divided into two phases, with 10 percent being allocated to the second phase for development of “nonessential elements.” These include improvements to the E-ELT’s adaptive optics system that will help neutralize the blurring effects of Earth’s atmosphere, according to a report by Space.com.

Approval for current construction applies only to the first phase, ESO officials said. Phase 2 components will be approved as more funding become available.

Other super-sized telescopes also are being built. The Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT)—to be located on Las Campanas, another Chilean mountain in the Atacama Desert—will have seven 27.6-foot-wide (8.4 meters) primary mirrors arranged into a single light-collecting surface. The GMT is expected to see first light in 2021.

In addition, the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) measuring 98 feet (30 meters) in diameter is scheduled to begin observing the heavens atop Hawaii’s Mauna Kea in 2022.

Scientists are hoping that these three enormous state-of-the-art telescopes will help shed light on some of astronomy’s biggest mysteries, such as the nature of those invisible twin forces thought to make up most of the universe: dark matter and dark energy,

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