The Extremely Large Telescope Promises to Find Signs of ‘Alien Life’

ESO/L. Calçada

Scientists have long debated if there are other habitable planets apart from Earth. There have been a plethora of planets discovered which have been believed to be within a ‘habitable zone’ of their primary star. The vast volume of space means that methods to observe our infinitive cosmos are highly sought after. The quest to find habitable planets, as well as other answers to long asked question, resulted in the conception of the Extremely Large Telescope (ELT), the largest optical telescope in the world.


Atop the Cerro Armazones, a mountain in Chile’s Atacama Desert, a platform has been built to house the telescope which will allow scientists to observe stars, planets, galaxies more closely than they have ever been able to. Surpassing the current flagship, the Very Large Telescope (VLT), the ELT will be made with five huge mirrors, the biggest having a diameter of 39 metres and made up of 798 hexagonal pieces, each having a diameter of 1.4 metres. The main mirror will be around five times bigger than the most powerful telescope in existence. It is said to capture around 13 times as much light, which will enable it to take much sharper images.


The project that came into being at the end of the 1990s and should become operational in 2024, hopes to explore planets outside of our solar system for signs of life. Scientists are most excited to delve deeper into recent discoveries of the planet circling the dwarf star Trappist-1 and another circling the Proxima Centaura red dwarf star. The ESO (European Southern Observatory) believes that the Humboldt Current will render the skies almost permanently clear thus allowing for scientists to observe stars around 90 percent of the nights. Scientists hope that this project will also shed light on the subject of dark matter.


The main mirror and an 80m protective dome make up the majority of the telescope’s size. The telescope consists of 5 mirrors, which bounce light amongst each other, thus helping to reduce the overall necessary size of the telescope. Also, the 5 mirrors can be adjusted to help improve the quality of the images taken. Sophisticated scientific instruments, located at the focus of the telescope, are used to process the images captured.

The ELT is believed to be able to collect around 15 times more light than any other operational telescope is capable of collecting, which means celestial bodies emitting smaller amounts of light will be easier to observe. It’s expected that the ELT will produce images up to 15 times sharper than the Hubble Space Telescope is capable of producing.

Costing 1.083 billion Euros and taking 11 years until completion, the construction of the Extremely Large Telescope is by no means a simple endeavor. But, once this telescope is in full functional capacity, it will completely change how we see our universe.

Interested to know more. Check out this cool video.

Video credits: ESO


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