The world's largest optical/infrared telescope will become operational early in the next decade, according to plans tentatively approved by the Europe's leading astronomers this week.
The Extremely Large Telescope will be built in northern Chile. Image credit: ESO
At a meeting in Germany, the European Southern Observatory (ESO) Council decided on Monday to push ahead with the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT), which will be built in northern Chile near the ESO's existing Paranal Observatory.
The project will cost €1.083bn (£872m) at 2012 prices, the ESO Council said in a statement, adding that work on the road to the summit of Cerro Armazones, where the 39.3-meter segmented-mirror telescope will be sited, is expected to begin this year.
"This is an excellent outcome and a great day for ESO. We can now move forward on schedule with this giant project," ESO director-general Tim de Zeeuw said, while council president Xavier Barcons said the E-ELT would "keep ESO in a leading position for decades to come and lead to an extraordinary harvest of exciting science".
Some of the contracts for the E-ELT, such as that setting up a design study for the telescope's "very challenging" M4 adaptive mirror, have already been signed. If the council vote pans out as planned, the major industrial contracts will be approved, along with the bulk of the funding, within the next year.
While all the 14 EU member states that are participating in the ESO have "expressed strong support" for the E-ELT scheme, at least 10 have to vote in favour of formal approval. Austria, the Czech Republic, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden and Switzerland have already voted 'yes', while four more — the UK, Belgium, Italy and Finland — still have to confirm their approval.
Once completed, the European Extremely Large Telescope will be larger than the Giant Magellan Telescope, which is mostly a US initiative also being built in the Chilean Andes, with a completion date of around 2020.
As was announced in May, a giant radio telescope called the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) is also set to be built across South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.