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About the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT) – Scientists create the world’s largest telescope on top of a mountain.

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Once they finish building it, the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT) will be more powerful than any telescope on earth. Its huge mirror, which is used to gather the faint light of faraway galaxies, stars, and planets (allows astronomers to see further than ever), will measure 129 feet (39.3 meters or 1,547 inches) and require microscopic precision to align the 800 hexagon-shaped pieces of mirror it will take to construct the telescope. E-ELT will be more than three times larger than any telescope on the planet!  To get an idea of how big E-ELT will be, take a look at the picture above and find the pickup truck to compare its size to the size of the E-ELT telescope.  Wow!

E-ELT will be built on top of the Cerro Armazones mountain, a 10,000-foot mountain that is part of the Chilean Coast Range in Chile. Scientists picked the Cerro Aramazones mountain because of the weather conditions at its peak – it is very, very dry. Dryness of the air is important for astronomers to get the clearest view of the night sky. Water molecules in the air (humidity) make it harder to see distant space objects through a telescope – similar to looking through a mist except in the case of telescopes – greatly magnified.

Astronomers explained the importance of the telescope’s location:

“If you build your telescope where the atmosphere above you is completely dry, you will get the best possible views of the stars – and there is nowhere on Earth that has air drier than this place.”

To fit the telescope on top of Cerro Armazones, builders will have to knock 80 feet off the top of the mountain in order to make its top perfectly flat. Then they’ll take the 798 pieces of mirror and attach them together to form one large 129-foot mirror weighing nearly 3,000 pounds. The dome that the telescope sits in will be 245 feet tall (that’s almost as long as a football field!).  It is estimated to cost over $1.5 billion dollars and will truly be “the world’s biggest eye on the sky”.

But there will be more than just a giant telescope on top of Cerro Armazones.  Since astronomers will live at the facility, it will be built with other cool stuff too. The E-ELT complex will include a squash court, indoor soccer field, swimming pool, 24-hour restaurant, and 100 luxurious rooms for the spoiled (but bleary-eyed) astronomers to live in.

Astronomers say the new European Extremely Large Telescope will help them see so far into space, they hope to find many other earth-like planets in our universe.  Construction on the E-ELT telescope begins this year (2014) and will take several years to complete.

For comparison, here’s a list of the world’s largest telescopes (as of 2014).

TelescopeMirror (meters)FeetInches
European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT)39.3128.941,547
Gran Telescopio Canarias (GTC)10.434.12409
Keck 1 and Keck 21032.80394
South African Large Telescope (SALT)9.230.18362
Hobby-Eberly Telescope (HET)9.230.18362
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