Dutch team starts work on massive telescope in Chile

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The biggest telescope in the world will soon bring the mysteries of the universe a few steps closer, as project developers begin readying the top of a 3,000 meter-high mountain in Chile to form the base of the telescope, which will be large enough to capture life on other planets.  Construction of the telescope, which The Netherlands is contributing to, is projected to be completed after 2020. At the top of the 3,000 meter-high Cerro Armazones mountain, a blast of dynamite will launch the start of months of noisy activity in the peaceful Atacama desert. The explosion is planned for 2 p.m. local time, 8 p.m. in The Netherlands. It will shrink and flatten the mountain to make space for the largest optical and infra-red telescope in the world, aptly named: European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT).

The €1.1 billion telescope will use 2.500 tons of steel rigging which will hold a 40m-wide primary mirror. This will allow cosmologists and astronomers to see light left over from the earliest stars, and possibly see life on planets not even in our solar system. Leiden astronomy professor Ignas Snellen says that the telescope will break ground in the way we look at the stars. "This telescope will be much bigger and stronger than the one we have now", Snellen says. "The observations may be a hundred or thousand times better than what is now available." About 20 kilometers away from the building site, the Cerro Paranal mountain was also decapitated, to build the Very Large Telescope (VLT) The Netherlands forms part of a team of 15 countries all taking part in this project of the European Southern Observatory (ESO). The Atacama desert is the near-perfect environment for this form if research. The air is very dry, and there are rarely clouds. There are also no built-up areas for miles, which means there is no artificial night-time light to distract from optimum star-gazing. The aim of this telescope is to look for planets that may support life-forms. In our galaxy, the Milky Way, there may already be 500 million planets at the suitable distance from their star to support life, such as our Earth is at the right distance from the Sun. According to astronomers, there are hundreds of billions of galaxies. "If there is life on another planet, then it is very far away", Snellen says. "We cannot see the life. But we can determine from a distance what types of gases there are in the atmosphere. If you look at the Earth from a long distance, you see oxygen here, because there is life. With this telescope, you can look for oxygen on other planets." Current telescopes are not powerful enough to see small planets where life is also possible. It's like looking for a needle in a haystack. NASA discovered an Earth-sized planet in April of this year that may be the first planet located that could be habitable. The Kepler-186f, it's called. It is 490 light-years away, and is the most similar in size to our planet. Other possibly habitable planets have been discovered, but these are larger than Earth "and consequently their true nature -rocky or gaseous- is unknown", the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Institute at Nasa announced. Snellen secretly hopes to discover definitive proof of alien life-forms. "The best outcome would be that we find a planet like Earth, measure the gases in the atmosphere and see the first signs of life."

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