Mountain top blasted for world's largest telescope

Artist's impression of the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT)

The European Extremely Large Telescope will let astronomers delve deeper into the universe

LAST UPDATED AT 10:37 ON Fri 20 Jun 2014

A Chilean mountain top has been blown up to make way for the European Extremely Large Telescope, nicknamed the "world's biggest eye on the sky".

Due to be completed by 2022, the telescope is being built by the European Southern Observatory, and will be the largest optical and infrared telescope in the world.

The telescope, referred to as the E-ELT, will enable astronomers to search for signs of life on "other Earth-like planets in the universe" and observe planets and stars in more depth, the Daily Telegraph reports.

Nearly a million rocks were blasted away from the top of the Cerro Armazones mountain to create a level base large enough to accommodate the telescope, reducing its height by 40 metres.

"This telescope will be so powerful that it will collect enough light to look to the observable limit of the Universe - soon after the Big Bang when the first stars and galaxies formed," Dr Aprajita Verma, deputy project scientist for the British team working on the telescope, told the BBC. "We'll be able to see when the universe switched on."

The telescope will built around a 39m-wide primary mirror, producing images of space 16 times more detailed than the ones created by Nasa’s Hubble Space Telescope.

"Astronomers are also planning for the unexpected," European Southern Observatory officials told The Independent. "New and unforeseeable questions will surely arise from the new discoveries made with the E-ELT."

Britain is one of 15 countries involved in the project, which is expected to cost more than €1bn.

The event streamed live by the European Southern Observatory last night, can be seen here. · 

For further concise, balanced comment and analysis on the week's news, try The Week magazine. Subscribe today and get 6 issues completely free.