SANTIAGO, May 28 (Xinhua) -- Construction of the world's largest optical telescope has started in northern Chile, marking the dawn of a new era of astronomy.
The Extremely Large Telescope (ELT) is being built by the European Southern Observatory (ESO), an intergovernmental astronomy organization in Europe, and is expected to begin operating in 2024.
"The ELT will produce discoveries that we simply cannot imagine today, and it will surely inspire numerous people around the world to think about science, technology and our place in the Universe," ESO quoted its Director General Tim de Zeeuw as saying during a ceremony that marked the start of the ELT's construction on Friday.
With a main mirror 39 meters in diameter, the ELT will be the largest optical and infrared telescope in the world and will take telescope engineering into new territory, said the ESO in a news release about the ceremony held at Paranal Residencia in northern Chile, close to the site of the future giant telescope.
The giant telescope will be housed in an enormous rotating dome 85 meters in diameter -- comparable in area to a football pitch, according to the ESO.
The ELT will sit atop Chile's 3,000-meter-high Cerro Armazones mountain in the Atacama desert, a plateau covering a strip of land on Chile's Pacific coast west of the Andes mountains.
The dry atmosphere and mostly cloudless sky of the Cerro Armazones mountain make it a privileged zone for optical astronomy, thus attracting a lot of the world's astronomical infrastructure to be located in the region.
The ELT will be "the world's biggest eye on the sky" and may revolutionize the perception of the universe, the ESO said.
It will tackle a wide range of scientific challenges, including probing Earth-like exoplanets for signs of life, studying the nature of dark energy and dark matter, and observing the universe's early stages to explore humans' origins, said the ESO.
It will also raise new questions scientists cannot conceive of today, as well as improving life here on Earth through new technology and engineering breakthroughs, the ESO added.