Make way for science. A mountaintop in Chile was exploded on Thursday, June 19, in the name of planet-watching, alien-hunting and universal understanding.
The top was leveled to provide space for the Extremely Large Telescope (ELT), destined to be the largest optical and infrared telescope in the world. The mountain gives it height, the climate gives it the necessary aridity to avoid moisture disrupting its processes and the sky is a brilliant blue, cloudless throughout most of the year.
The European Southern Observatory, a conglomeration of astronomers and physicists from 15 European nations, is building the ELT on Chile's Cerra Armazones Mountain. Nearby is the ESO's VLT (you guessed it-Very Large Telescope), thus far the world's largest optical (visible-light) telescope.
The ELT, the "world's biggest eye in the sky", will be able to study exoplanets for habitable zones, far-off star-forming galaxies, and the origin of the universe, all in more detail and clarity than any other current telescope. Plans for the telescope include looking at primordial stars, galaxies and black holes to piece together clues about the universe's beginnings. Scientists think that, for the first time, they will be able to measure the acceleration of the expansion of the universe, from the Big Bang to today.
The telescope's name is quite appropriate at 10,000 feet up, boasting a diameter of 130 feet. It will be almost entirely made up of 798 small, hexagonal mirrors rather than a full-length mirror, to accommodate the restricted budget.
We will have to wait a bit to see this gigantic eye put to use, as the first project is planned for 2024. It will take approximately that long to build the complex device. The leveling blast on Thursday, which was recorded live and posted, was only the first of a series of blasts necessary to clear an area large enough to accommodate the ELT.
From stargazers to astrophysicists, humans have always looked to the sky for answers. We have been spurred on by optimism but restrained by the limitations of distance and technology. The state-of-the-art advances to come in 10 years from the ELT promise to inspire and answer many questions.