The best site for Europe’s superscope?
By Michael Banks
It has a dome that will be about the size of a football stadium, it will be around 80 m high and have a diameter at its base of about 100 m.
These are the dimensions of the €1bn European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT that will be the largest optical/near-infrared telescope once it is completed at the end of the decade.
Five sites were under review including La Palma in Spain and four sites in Chile: Armazones, Ventarrones, Tolonchar and Vizcachasand.
The E-ELT’s site selection advisory committee chose Cerro Armazones, near Paranal as its preferred site. The site was selected, the committee says, because it has the “best balance of sky quality across all aspects and it can be operated in an integrated fashion with the existing ESO Paranal Observatory.”
E-ELT will aim to study the earliest stars and galaxies, and track down Earth-like planets in habitable zones around other stars using its 42 m in diameter primary mirror, which is made from 984 smaller segments that are each 1.45 m wide. It will also try to probe their atmospheres using low resolution spectroscopy.
ESO’s council will now make a decision on the E-ELT site, which will take into account the recommendations of the committee.
If Cerro Armazones is chosen, then the E-ELT will join ESO’s Very Large Telescope, which contains four separate 8.2 m telescopes.