The European Southern Observatory (ESO) council met on Monday in Garching, Germany and approved the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT) program, pending the confirmation of ad referendum votes from the authorities of four member states before the next council meeting. Assuming all goes according to plan, the E-ELT is expected to begin operation early in the next decade.
The long-anticipated decision was announced as this year marks the 50th anniversary of the ESO, which is supported by fifteen countries - Austria, Belgium, Brazil, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom
The ESO is responsible for the construction of several important telescopes located at favorable locations in the southern hemisphere and currently employs approximately 700 staff, while receiving annual contributions from its member states in excess of €140 million (approximately US$175.5 million).
Upon completion, the E-ELT will be the world’s largest optical/infrared telescope and will help contribute toward the advancement of astrophysical knowledge. The E-ELT promises to facilitate detailed studies of super-massive black holes and the little-understood dark matter and dark energy which make up much of the universe. Further to this, the E-ELT will also be assigned the task of searching the habitable zones of stars for possible Earth-like planets which could potentially harbor life.
“This is an excellent outcome and a great day for ESO. We can now move forward on schedule with this giant project,” said the ESO Director General, Tim de Zeeuw.
All this innovation comes with a significant price tag attached however, as the E-ELT is expected to cost a staggering €1.083 billion (approximately US$1.3 billion). The construction of the E-ELT will also pose a logistical challenge to rival its scientific promise and design work is said to be ongoing for both the leveling of the E-ELT's site, situated atop the Cerro Armazones mountain in northern Chile, and construction of a suitable road to provide access to the telescope.