The European Space Agency has been planning the telescope to end all telescopes for years now. However last week things got real — so to speak — with the first stone for the ELO placed in a ceremony in Chile. According to the ESO, the event marks “the beginning of the construction of the dome and main telescope structure of the world’s biggest optical telescope”.
And “beginning” is the right word, as the telescope itself won’t be ready for use until 2024. But, when it does come online, it will have no competition in terms of size — inside its 85m diameter, rotating dome will sit an equally ginormous mirror 39m in diameter.
The extreme measurements will help astronomers and researchers “tackle a wide range of scientific challenges”:
…including probing Earth-like exoplanets for signs of life, studying the nature of dark energy and dark matter, and observing the Universe’s early stages to explore our origins. It will also raise new questions we cannot conceive of today, as well as improving life here on Earth through new technology and engineering breakthroughs.
Part of the ceremony also involved sealing a time capsule with a few neat tidbits for future generations:
The contents include a poster of photographs of current ESO staff and a copy of the book describing the future scientific goals of the telescope. The cover of the time capsule is an engraved hexagon made of Zerodur, a one fifth-scale model of one of the ELT’s primary mirror segments.
The only sad part? Even though the concept images show orange laser beams slaying unseen alien threats, the telescope won’t come with any energy weapons.
In reality, they’re laser star guides, which do other incredibly nifty things, though nothing that involves protecting Earth from space invasions.