Construction has begun in Chile on the European Extremely Large Telescope, which when completed will be the world’s largest optical telescope. It will be five times larger than the top observing instruments in use today.
The size of the ELT has the potential to transform our understanding of the universe, say its backers, with its main mirror that will measure 39 metres across.
Located on a 3000 metre-high mountain in the middle of the Atacama desert, it is due to begin operating in 2024.
“What is being raised here is more than a telescope. Here we see one of the greatest examples of the possibilities of science,” said Chilean President Michelle Bachelet in a speech to mark the beginning of construction at the site.
The dry atmosphere of the Atacama provides as near perfect observing conditions as it is possible to find on Earth.
The ELT is being funded by the European Southern Observatory, an organisation consisting of European and southern hemisphere nations. Construction costs were not available but the ESO has said previously that the ELT would cost around €1 billion (NZ$1.58 billion) at 2012 prices.