Largest land-based telescope cleared

A plan to build the biggest land-based optical telescope in the world has cleared an important hurdle, the European Southern Observatory [ESO] announced.

Two-thirds of ESO's governing council gave full or provisional approval for the so-called European Extremely Large Telescope [E-ELT], which opens the way to starting work on the project, it said in a press release on Monday.

The USD 1.35-billion scheme entails building a telescope with a massive light-catching mirror 39.3 metres wide, several times the size of the biggest optical telescopes on Tuesday.

It will be sited on Cerro Armazones in northern Chile, close to ESO's existing Paranal Observatory, where the extremely arid conditions and high altitude offer excellent viewing of the skies.

'This is an excellent outcome and a great day for ESO. We can now move forward on schedule with this giant project,' ESO's director general, Tim de Zeeuw, was quoted as saying after the council meeting in Garching, Germany.

If all goes well, the E-ELT would start operations about a decade from now, becoming one of the great astronomical assets of the 21st century alongside a planned radio telescope, the Square Kilometre Array [SKA] set to be build in South Africa and Australia.
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