GARCHING, Germany, June 13, 2012 — The world’s biggest eye in the sky is a step closer to becoming reality. Plans for the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT) were approved by the ESO Council pending confirmation of four ad referendum votes. The project is set to commence early in the next decade.
The E-ELT will be a 39.3-m segmented-mirror telescope sited atop the Cerro Armazones in northern Chile, close to ESO’s Paranal Observatory. It is expected to cost €1 billion (about $1.35 billion).
“This is an excellent outcome and a great day for ESO,” said Tim de Zeeuw, ESO’s director general. “We can now move forward on schedule with this giant project.”
Artist’s impression of the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT) in its enclosure on Cerro Armazones, a 3060-m mountaintop in Chile’s Atacama Desert. The 39.3-m E-ELT will be the largest optical/infrared telescope in the world — the world’s biggest eye in the sky. Operations are planned to start early in the next decade, and the E-ELT will tackle some of the biggest scientific challenges of our time. (Image: ESO/L. Calçada)
To approve the start of the program, two-thirds (10) of the member states had to vote in its favor. At the council meeting, Austria, Czech Republic, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden and Switzerland voted in favor of the commencement, while four countries, Belgium, Finland, Italy and the UK, voted in favor ad referendum. The four remaining member states are working toward joining the program.
Construction cannot begin until provisional votes from the remaining states have been confirmed and 90 percent of the required funding secured, officials say.
To stay on the current schedule, the first large E-ELT industrial contracts would need approval and major funding commitment would need to be in place within the next year. This would provide enough time for the conditions — confirmation of the four ad referendum votes, other member states to join the project, and for Brazil to complete its ratification procedure as a member state — to be satisfied.
The photo was taken at ESO’s Garching headquarters during the June 11-12 council meeting in which the E-ELT program was approved. (Image: ESO)
Early contracts for the project have already been placed, including one signed for a detailed design study of the telescope’s M4 adaptive mirror. An early start was necessary because this is one of the longest lead-time items for the whole program.
In addition, details for the route to the Cerro Armazones summit are also in development. Some of the civil projects are expected to begin this year, including leveling the summit and preparing the access road to the site.
“The E-ELT will keep ESO in a leading position for decades to come and lead to an extraordinary harvest of exciting science,” said council President Xavier Barcons.
For more information, visit: www.eso.org