Today, the European Southern Observatory (ESO) began construction on the largest optical/near-infrared telescope in the world, by blowing up the top of a Chilean mountain.
The ESO blasted off the top of Cerro Armazones to make way for the telescope, aptly called the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT), in a televised event that was witnessed by "VIPS from both Chile and the ESO Member States," according to the ESO. Blowing up the top of a mountain to make way for a telescope may seem extreme, but the observatory has big plans for E-ELT:
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.
That's not all:
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.
ESO employed more than 100 astronomers from 2005 to 2006 to help design the telescope, which will look something like this:
And according to the Guardian, there's more than just scientific discovery at stake:
So far, more than £9m in contracts have been secured for the UK. These include one awarded to Glyndwr University in North Wales, which is supplying prototypes for the hexagonal mirror segments.
The ground breaking was treated with much fanfare by the ESO, which live-tweeted the event:
... and warned viewers to keep their explosion expectations low:
The sound of the explosion will not be loud and will take about a minute to reach Paranal. #EELTblast— ESO (@ESO) June 19, 2014
#EELTblast wasn't a big boom from Paranal, but its significance is Earth-shattering. Thank you for being part of it! Close-up views coming— ESO (@ESO) June 19, 2014
A video of the blast showed the smoke unfurling, rather serenely, across the (apparently undisturbed) mountaintop -- though we're sure up close the scene was more violent:
Still, not a shabby way for the world's largest telescope to enter the scene.