Armazones Chile to be the Site for the 42 meter European Extremely Large Telescope?

Question: Where are the night skies always dark, cloud-free 360 days a year, bone-dry, and orbiting 3.5 km above sea level?
Answer: Armazones Mountain, Atacama desert, Chile.
Question: Who wants to go live there?
Answer: The European Extremely-Large Telescope (E-ELT)!

“We are talking about the biggest telescope in the world, the biggest for a long time to come. That means we have to choose the best spot. Chile has a superb location. It’s the best in the world, there’s no doubt,” the European Southern Observatory’s astronomer, Massimo Tarenghi, told AFP. He is one of four astronomers – two Chileans, an Italian (Tarenghi) and a German – who were in the desert this week to evaluate its suitability compared to the main other contender: the Spanish isle of La Palma in the Canary Islands off western Africa.

The European Southern Observatory (ESO), an intergovernmental astronomical research agency that already has three facilities operating in the Atacama desert, including the Very Large Telescope array in the town of Paranal which is currently considered Europe’s foremost observatory.

Work on the E-ELT is to begin in December 2011 and cost 90 million euros (120 million dollars) … once a decision is made on the site, which will be as early as March this year.

When complete, the E-ELT will be “the world’s biggest eye on the sky,” according to the ESO, which hopes it will “address many of the most pressing unsolved questions in astronomy.”

The E-ELT is likely to be as revolutionary in the field of astronomy as Galileo’s telescope 400 years ago that determined that the Sun, and not the Earth, was the center of our universe, according to the European agency based in Munich, Germany. The German astronomer in Chile, Wolfgang Gieren, waxed happily about the possibilities of the future telescope. “In no more than 15 years we could have the first good-resolution spectra of planets outside our universe that are the same size of Earth and see if we can detect signs of life,” he said.

One of the Chilean astronomers, Mario Harmuy, said the Armazones provided an ideal location. “Several things come together here. The cold Humboldt Current, which passes by Chile’s coast, means that there is a high pressure center in the Pacific that deflects high clouds and prevents cover over this part of the continent,” he said. “To the east, the high Andes mountains prevent humidity from moving in from the Atlantic with clouds. The higher you are, the less humidity there is, and thus the light from the stars go through less of the atmosphere and is distorted less when it hits the telescope.” To boot, the Chilean location is free of the storms that hit the Canary Islands and the Sahara, he said.

Tarneghi added that the ESO’s existing Paranal observatory nearby also meant that much of the ground infrastructure was already in place.

Chile’s government was equally enthusiastic about hosting the E-ELT. Gabriel Rodriguez, in charge of the foreign ministry’s science and technology division, said Chile was ready to cede the 600 hectares (1,500 acres) needed for the project. The government is to submit its offer to the ESO next Monday, with a decision expected early March.

The Italian astronomer cautioned that despite Chile’s obvious advantages, the tender had to be weighed carefully for all its aspects. “Neither any of us nor the ESO know what the final decision will be. We need to receive the Chilean and Spanish proposals and evaluate factors of operation, work and production costs,” Tarenghi said.

The other Chilean astronomer, Maria Teresa Ruiz, remained fired up at the potential of the new instrument. The “surface area of this telescope is bigger than all the others in Chile combined, which will allow us to explore things in the universe that we can’t even imagine today,” she said.

Source: AFP

21 Replies to “Armazones Chile to be the Site for the 42 meter European Extremely Large Telescope?”

  1. By 2020 we will have the James Webb space telescope, results from the LHC, and this! The next decade could be a golden age of discovery!

  2. … I just remembered a documentary I saw on the Atacama desert: 1mm avg. precipitation per year, 10% relative humidity. A very dry place. Although, some British cars from the seventies could still rust through there.

  3. “In no more than 15 years we could have the first good-resolution spectra of planets outside our universe that are the same size of Earth and see if we can detect signs of life,” he said.

    ummmm… outside our universe, eh?

  4. At least this telescope will see the most important hemisphere in the sky. This includes the Magellanic Clouds and the heart of the Milky Way.
    Might for once change the balance of released images whose general systematic bias continues with the same old northern objects. I.e. All-Sky Plot of All HST Observations as of Mar. 23, 2005 [Compare top-left (northern) to bottom-right (southern)’] At least this ‘scope might make this a bit more equal.
    My money is on that the first object images will be the ORION NEBULA (which is a southern object anyway );
    Note: This is similar to the many problems with writing on astronomy, which only take the perspective of those in the Northern Hemisphere and ignore the Southern Hemisphere perspective.

  5. Wow, that’s big. And “only” 90 million euros. That’s not too bad. I love the way the Europeans don’t engage in too much hype: the “large hadron collider”, the “extremely large telescope”. True, but lacking a bit in imagination maybe?

  6. I don’t know, my vote is for BT,E, or Biggest Telescope, Ever.

    That’s right. You heard it here, first.

    But seriously, this thing clocks in at nudge over 15% of NASA’s annual budget for 2010. Not bad at all. That’s an Extremely Large Bargain.

  7. Wrt the La Palma site, one reader at PhysOrg pointed out:

    “La Palma is a completely idiotic place to put…[anything]…of any value. It’s an unstable, heavily faulted, volcanic island.” Although La Palma has a very nice complement of scopes turning out a lot of good science, this would seem a poor choice for a scope this size, for several reasons.

    I would also note, La Palma has periodic problems with fine dust blowing in from the Sahara which hampers many types of observations (we see some of these Saharan high altitude dust clouds here in Florida).

  8. This instrument will put ground based optical astronomy back in center stage, at least for a while. That mirror will gather in an enormous amount of light.

    La Palma is not a good choice. It is my understanding there are concerns over a huge landslide on the Canaries which could send a tsunami barrelling into the east coasts of North and South America.


  9. the 42 meter European Extremely Large Telescope [My bold.]

    I’m glad I finally found out the unit to “the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything.”

    Though I’m a bit disappointed about the unimaginative turn out. I expected at least s*kg*m^-3*(# mice) or something such. (s*kg*(# mice), or the unit for a universe stuffed with dense tap-dancing mice.)

    Which in a mice-friendly ultimate question way leads me into this extremely important side-order question:

    but lacking a bit in imagination maybe?

    If you do everything by committee this is the result.

    To herd a flock of formerly independent nations must be at least one order of magnitude more difficult than to herd a flock of long dependent states. I’m just glad that they could agree on a spot to put the humongous telescope on.

  10. $120 Million? I highly suspect this figure. Personally I think they should build it no matter the price, but seriously…

  11. Can someone corroborate the claim of “Spectra from Earth-class planets”?

    If this is true I am going to be crying of joy, but I didn’t think that this was going to be possible with this telescope.

    In the ESA web site, they are talking about detecting Earth class planets indirectly based on wobble (I’m assuming radial distance, not lateral motion) but they don’t mention resolving such planets, or getting a spectrum (or change-of-spectrum during a transition)

  12. yeah, I saw that (about gas giants) but for me, personally, what I really want to see within my lifetime is analysis of an atmosphere around Earth like planets. That’s the tipping point – everything else is just lead-up to it.

  13. The “outside our universe” is, supposedly, a quote of what Wolfgang Gieren said. I suspect the original quote – which may not have been in English – got mis-translated before it appeared on an AFP newswire (perhaps he said something like ‘solar system’?).

    The total cost of the E-ELT is “around € 800 million” (source: The “90 million euros” seems to refer to the estimated cost of five first-generation instruments for the E-ELT (same source).

    Indirect spectroscopy of atmospheres of ~Earth like planets may be possible, with the E-ELT, by taking high-resolution spectra without such a planet transiting, and with, and subtracting (I’m sure the actual data analysis would be a great deal more tricky!).

    Yes, it’s 42 meter (not metre), by Universe Today editorial policy.

  14. Oh, Jean!

    Yes, it’s 42 meter (not metre), by Universe Today editorial policy.

    ‘When in Rome, do what the Americans do!” so smacks of imperialism it is disgusting. Here “digging its heels in” America doesn’t want to adopt the metric system yet it still wants to impose it own spelling! * Such flagrant arrogance!

    Universe Today clearly needs to change its policy. If the story is firmly based in the US, “meter” might be acceptable, however, this is essentially a European telescope used and constructed only in metric SI units.

    Clearly, the UT policy should be adopted from it source, just like Wikipedia policy and most other news sources!


    NOTE: Also the unit of area in SI units would 600 hectare (ha) NOT the non-existant “hectares”; the unit of hectare being 10,000 square metres or 100 ares (or 2.471 acres)

    [* If the abuse of the word colour v. colour, etc. wasn’t bad enough. ]

  15. I don’t quite see the problem with the E-ELT monniker. Telescopes and/or observatories often have a name given to them in the design/construction phase and are renamed during construction or once in operation. VLTs 8m scopes UT1 thru UT4 are now known as Antu, Kueyen, Melipal and Yepun. Sometimes sponsors or donors have a project named after them (Keck, Oschin Schmidt). Others are named after astronomers (Mayall, Blanco, Bok, Hale). As far as acronyms go, some are better (VISTA, UKIRT, SOFIA) than others (MMT means what?, LBT). So E-ELT may be a designation that will change in time.

    Of course, for now, how about “Carl – The Friendly 42meter scope”. 🙂

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