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RAS welcomes ESO decision to build world's largest optical telescope

Last Updated on Tuesday, 12 June 2012 13:51
Published on Tuesday, 12 June 2012 13:39

The Royal Astronomical Society today welcomed the in principle decision to proceed to construct the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT). When complete in 2022 E-ELT will be the largest optical telescope in the world, with a main mirror 39 metres in diameter.

The decision to build the telescope, made by the governing Council of the European Southern Observatory (ESO), an international collaboration of fifteen member states, still has to be ratified by four countries including the United Kingdom. If approved, then preparation of the telescope site in Chile should begin later this year.

eso1225aArtist's impression of the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT) in its enclosure on Cerro Armazones, a 3060-metre high mountaintop in Chile's Atacama Desert. Credit: ESO / L. CalçadaE-ELT will observe the universe in visible and infrared light, making direct images of planets in orbit around other stars, possibly including Earth-like worlds, and studying the first galaxies that formed after the Big Bang.

RAS President Prof. David Southwood commented: "'We urge the UK Government to approve our involvement in E-ELT as soon as possible, so that British scientists and engineers can take a full role in what is set to be one of the most exciting scientific projects of the 21st century."

'The decision is good news not only for the UK but for astronomers across Europe. It is good to see Europe boldly going where others have yet to venture. E-ELT will help us answer some of the fundamental questions about the universe, from the nature of planets around other stars to the early history of the cosmos.

'World-leading projects of this kind inspire us all and are hugely effective in bringing young people into careers in science and technology. The announcement on the same day of increased astronomy content in the national curriculum recognises this. Some of the students benefiting from the new curriculum may well be among the first to exploit the new facility when it comes on line."


Further information



ESO announcement on E-ELT


UK Science and Technology Facilities Council press release on E-ELT announcement





Prof. David Southwood
Royal Astronomical Society

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For interview requests with Prof. Southwood please contact:

Robert Massey
Royal Astronomical Society
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Notes for editors


The Royal Astronomical Society (RAS,, founded in 1820, encourages and promotes the study of astronomy, solar-system science, geophysics and closely related branches of science. The RAS organizes scientific meetings, publishes international research and review journals, recognizes outstanding achievements by the award of medals and prizes, maintains an extensive library, supports education through grants and outreach activities and represents UK astronomy nationally and internationally. Its more than 3500 members (Fellows), a third based overseas, include scientific researchers in universities, observatories and laboratories as well as historians of astronomy and others.

Follow the RAS on Twitter via @royalastrosoc