The world’s largest telescope is now set to be built in Chile, now that the project has received the green light from the European Southern Observatory’s Council. The ESOC was awaiting the final stages of funding before giving the project the “go ahead” even though parts of the project had been previously approved. This telescope will give unprecedented images, and will have a fitting name – being called the European Extremely Large Telescope or E-ELT for short.
The massive telescope that will be built in Chile, will feature a primary mirror of 39 meters in diameter, which means the telescope will soak up 15 times more light than the current-largest optical telescope that’s functional right now. Altogether, roughly $1.2 billion was required in funding to reach this point, which they did comfortably after Poland was locked in as a partial funder of the project.
The project received its first approval in 2021 when they reached 90% of the funding they needed to get to the next phase. They broke the project up into phases to ultimately make it more economically feasible since millions of dollars were required to make the project a reality. Tim de Zeeuw, the director general of the European Southern Observatory noted that “Major industrial construction work for the E-ELT is now funded and can proceed according to plan,” when talking about the project and what the most-recent “go ahead” meant for the project as a whole.
This telescope, which is the largest and most-powerful of any current, or planned telescope in the world – will give scientists the ability to evaluate and characterize exoplanets that are approximately the size of Earth, and even study start populations that exist in galaxies near the Milky Way. When talking about what the next several years will be like for the team, and overall operation, de Zeeuw noted that the events “will be very exciting.”
The next phase of approval wouldn’t come until 2024 when more funding would need to be verified to build on and improve the condition of the telescope. The telescope will likely be running by 2024 – and then improvements will be made to the telescope to increase the range and the focus of the telescope which would push the “finished” timeline back to 2026.
However, five other telescopes that are sizable in their own regard make the list of the biggest telescopes on Earth to this point – not including E-ELT. Here’s how they stack up:
- The Arecibo Observatory is one of the most famous telescopes on Earth. It has a 1,000-foot reflector that has existed since 1963.
- Atacama Large is one of the biggest ground-based astronomy tools that exist. It has 66 39-foot radio antennas that help it account for its main array.
- The Giant Magellan Telescope is another ground-based optical telescope. Easily one of the most expensive as well – costing $1.1 billion. GMT has an 80-foot mirror for receiving light.
- The Thirty Meter Telescope has a 98-foot aperture that has a resolution 12 times clearer than the Hubble Space Telescope – and it’s here on Earth.
- Square Kilometer Array is another radio telescope that’s in the same family as #5 on this list. Except this has 50-times the strength of any telescope like it.
Naturally, the new number one on this list will be the E-ELT, but that still remains a few years out before that can be added to the list of standing structures.