On June 2014, an explosion disturbed the silence of the Acatama Desert in Chile. Part of the 3000-metre peak of Cerro Armazones was blasted away in order to prepare a level platform that will host ESO’s European Extremely Large Telescope [E-ELT], the largest optical/infrared telescope in the world.
The Atacama Desert is one of the favourite places for astronomers because of its exceptional conditions: the extremely arid mountain region, that is far away from any source of light pollution, offers a clear sky most of the time. This environment, chosen as the location for the future E-ELT, will also present new challenges for the construction of the telescope and its platform. Over the next 10 years, a road needs to be built and both the sun and the lack of water cannot be ignored while the numerous pieces of the telescope will be assembled.
Monitoring systems will be installed at the Paranal observatory, 25km away, which has served to host scenes of the James Bond movie, Quantum of Solace. E-ELT will not act as a lonely secret agent and is expected to work in a team with space telescopes, such as Hubble, by offering complementary data.
Thanks to its 39m-wide mirror, the telescope will be able to provide spectra of exoplanets, currently known as a 2-pixel picture. During the last decade, a tremendous number of exoplanets have been discovered that are not distinct from solar planets. The data gathered by E-ELT will allow astronomers to explore the atmosphere of some of these exoplanets.
The first observation from E-ELT is planned for 2024.