Most members of the European Southern Observatory’s Council have supported the 1.1 billion-euro project to build the world’s largest optical telescope.
Austria, the Czech Republic, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden and Switzerland voted to start the program while representatives of Belgium, Finland, Italy, and the UK backed the project pending confirmation from their governments.
Denmark, France, Portugal and Spain said they continue to work towards approval.
“Today’s announcement is an important step towards construction, though the final go-ahead depends of course on obtaining approval by a number of governments … to such a long-term financial commitment,” Reuters quoted chief executive of the UK Science and Technology Facilities Council John Womersley as saying.
Brazil will join the ESO Council this year and Chile will host the telescope on top of its 3,060-meter Cerro Armazones Mountain in the Atacama Desert.
The European Extremely Large Telescope (ELT) will use a mirror 39 meters in diameter to image planets outside the solar system and those orbiting other suns in so-called “habitable zones.”
Made up from nearly 800 hexagonal segments, the mirror will gather 12 times more light than the largest optical telescopes operating today.
“Its unique combination of sharp imaging and huge light collecting area will allow us to observe some of the most exciting phenomena in the universe in much better detail,” said Oxford University scientist Isobel Hook.
“For example we’ll be able to observe distant galaxies in the process of formation, see the effects of massive black holes on their environment and even search for planets in ‘habitable zones’ beyond our solar system, where life could exist.”
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