European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT)
The European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT) is a planned ground-based extremely large telescope for the optical/near-infrared range, to be built by the European Southern Observatory (ESO) on a mountain top in Cerro Armazones, Chile. The design comprises a reflecting telescope with a 39.3 metre diameter segmented primary mirror, a 4.2 metre diameter secondary mirror, and will be supported by adaptive optics and multiple instruments. On 11 June 2012, the ESO Council approved The E-ELT programme to begin construction of the telescope, pending agreement with the governments of some member states. Most of those have since agreed, and the go decision for the E-ELT now rests chiefly on whether the Brazilian parliament will ratify Brazil's joining ESO.
It is expected to allow astronomers to probe the earliest stages of the formation of planetary systems and to detect water and organic molecules in proto-planetary discs around stars in the making.
Extremely Large Telescopes are considered worldwide as one of the highest priorities in ground-based astronomy. They will vastly advance astrophysical knowledge, allowing detailed studies of subjects including planets around other stars, the first objects in the Universe, super-massive black holes, and the nature and distribution of the dark matter and dark energy which dominate the Universe.
Since the end of 2005 ESO has been working together with its user community of European astronomers and astrophysicists to define the new giant telescope needed by the middle of the next decade. More than 100 astronomers from all European countries have been involved throughout 2006, helping the ESO Project Offices to produce a novel concept, in which performance, cost, schedule and risk were carefully evaluated.
Dubbed E-ELT for European Extremely Large Telescope, this revolutionary new ground-based telescope concept will have a 39-metre main mirror and will be the largest optical/near-infrared telescope in the world: “the world’s biggest eye on the sky”.
With the start of operations planned for early in the next decade, the E-ELT will tackle the biggest scientific challenges of our time, and aim for a number of notable firsts, including tracking down Earth-like planets around other stars in the "habitable zones" where life could exist — one of the Holy Grails of modern observational astronomy. It will also perform "stellar archaeology" in nearby galaxies, as well as make fundamental contributions to cosmology by measuring the properties of the first stars and galaxies and probing the nature of dark matter and dark energy. On top of this astronomers are also planning for the unexpected — new and unforeseeable questions will surely arise from the new discoveries made with the E-ELT.