The Extremely Large Telescope (ELT) will be the world’s largest telescope and one of the most powerful and ambitious of its kind. This could mark a new era of astronomy.

The idea for the world’s largest optical and infrared telescope first came about in 2014. Now, almost three years later, construction has officially started on the telescope.

To commemorate the construction’s milestone, a ceremony was held at project leader, European Southern Observatory’s (ESO) Paranal site in northern Chile. The site of the future giant telescope will be located on the top of a 3046-metre mountain in the middle of the Atacama desert. The desert location is no coincidence – the dry atmosphere provides near perfect observing conditions on Earth.

ELT is going to be – as its name suggests – enormous and will be five times larger than the top observing instruments in use today. The main mirror will be 39 metres in diameter and be housed in an enormous rotating dome.

Unlike any other before it, ELT is also designed to be an adaptive telescope and has the ability to correct atmospheric turbulence, taking telescope engineering to another level. The image below depicts the telescope system beautifully.

A detailed view of ELT

Take it’s spectrograph named Harmoni. This instrument is designed to simultaneously take 4000 images – each in a slightly different colour. That’s a bind-blowing amount of data.

Amongst its capabilities, ELT promises to add and refine astronomers’ burgeoning discoveries of planets orbiting other stars, with the ability to find more smaller planets, image larger ones and possibly characterise their atmospheres.

ELT won’t be exploring the unknown any time soon, because operation is only scheduled for 2024. The huge telescope has the potential to transform our understanding of the universe as we know it and from the look of it, it’s going to be out of this world.