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Top of Chilean mount to be blasted away to make room for giant telescope

20 April 2014, 13:02 -- The world's largest telescope will be built on Mount Cerro Armazones north of Chile's capital Santiago. The top of the mountain will be blown off to create a plateau for the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT).

In a few weeks, the 10,000ft mountain is going to have its top knocked off, The Guardian reports.

'We are going to blast it with dynamite and then carry off the rubble. We will take about 80ft off the top of the mountain to create a plateau – and when we have done that, we will build the world's biggest telescope there," the newspaper quotes Gird Hudepohl, a senior engineer at the European Southern Observatory (ESO), as saying.

Hudepohl participated in the similar "decapitation" of Cerro Paranal, a mountain located some 20 km from Cerro Armazones, on which one of the planet's most technologically advanced observatories was erected by the ESO.

The Paranal observatory has been in operation for more than a decade. It has four giant mirrors, eight meters in diameter, known as Very Large Telescopes (VLT). More than 100 astronomers, engineers and support staff work there. A few meters below the telescopes there is a luxurious living compound with a 110-room residence, a restaurant serving meals and drinks around the clock, a squash court, an indoor football pitch and a swimming pool.

The E-ELT's 39-meter segmented primary mirror made of almost 800 segments - each 1.4 meters in diameter but only 50 mm thick – will gather 15 times more light than any of the existing telescopes. It will help astronomers to look farther back into the history of the universe and search for extra-solar planets orbiting other stars.

'There are fundamental issues that only a telescope the size of the E-ELT can resolve. Its mirror will have a surface area 10 times bigger than any other telescope, which means it will take a 10th of the time to collect the same amount of light – i.e. the same number of photons – from an object as compared with these other instruments," ESO astronomer Linda Schmidtobreick said.

The E-ELT's main structure will weigh about 2,800 tons.

But what's the purpose of building a costly research complex as vast and sophisticated as the E-ELT in remote wilderness amid an arid desert?

"The atmosphere here is as dry as you can get and that is critically important. Water molecules obscure the view from telescopes on the ground. It is like trying to peer through mist… 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," Cambridge University astronomer Professor Gerry Gilmore explained.

Simone Zaggia, of the Inaf Observatory of Padua, believes that the E-ELT will play a crucial role in the hunt for Earth-like exoplanets that could support life.

'At present, our biggest telescopes can only spot really big exoplanets, giants that are as big as Jupiter and Saturn. But we really want to know about the smaller worlds that make up the solar systems in our galaxy. In other words, we want to find out if there are many Earth-like planets in our part of the universe. More importantly we want to find out if their atmospheres contain levels of oxygen or carbon dioxide or methane or other substances that suggest there is life there. To do that, we need a giant telescope like the E-ELT," he said.

The E-ELT project with an estimated construction cost of 1.055 billion euros is scheduled for completion in the 2020s.

Source: http://voiceofrussia.com/news/2014_04_20/ Top-of-Chilean-mount-to-be-blasted-away- to-make-room-for-giant-telescope-9209/

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