Press Release

Spectacular Mountain Blast Marks Major Milestone for World’s Largest Telescope

By SpaceRef Editor
June 18, 2014
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The top of a 3000 metre mountain high up in the Chilean Andes will be blasted off this Thursday evening to create the plateau needed for what will soon be home to the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT), the largest telescope of its kind to be built anywhere in the world.  On 19th June 2014, 17.30-19.30 UK time (16.30-18.30 UTC), the world will be able to witness, via a live webcast, this explosive mountain blasting spectacular.

The ‘E-ELT Groundbreaking’ event will see the peak of a mountain top in Cerro Armazones, Northern Chile be reduced by 40 metres, nearly a million tonnes of rock will be blown off. This land is part of the European Southern Observatory (ESO), the multi-national organisation building the E-ELT, and this ground-breaking is a significant step in the telescope’s journey from drawing board to reality. 

Nicknamed the ‘World’s biggest eye on the sky’, the E-ELT will capture 15 times more light than any other optical telescope currently in existence and the images it creates will be 16 times sharper than those produced by the Hubble Space Telescope.

“The E-ELT will allow astronomers to reach deeper into space, further back in time and more intimately into the workings of the Universe than any other visible to infrared telescope ever built”, said Dr Aprajita Verma, Deputy Project Scientist for the UK E-ELT project at Oxford University. “From probing the first galaxies that formed in the Universe, to studying extra-solar planets and looking for signs of life, we can expect break through advances and new discoveries with the E-ELT.”

As a member of ESO the UK is one of 15 countries involved in one of the biggest global science collaborations in history.  A substantial £88million investment by the UK government last year is already successfully securing a pivotal role for UK scientists and engineers in the E-ELT project, supported by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), in the telescope’s construction and eventual operation, as well as in the development of the cutting edge instrumentation.  

STFC’s Professor Colin Cunningham, who is leader of the UK E-ELT Programme added: “The ‘E-ELT Groundbreaking’ event is a significant milestone in what is an extremely exciting prospect for our astronomy community.  The E-ELT is one of the highest priorities for STFC – not only will it be the world’s pre-eminent astronomical observatory for many years to come, it also presents a great opportunity for UK industry, requiring innovative technologies, from engineering, to software and instrumentation, both in terms of building this state-of the-art facilities as well as in its ongoing operation.”
The advanced manufacturing challenges presented by the E-ELT project are providing UK companies with the opportunity to apply for major, lucrative contracts, and so far more than £9million in contracts have been secured in the UK.  This figure could rise at least ten-fold before 2023 when construction is expected to be completed, not to mention the wider potential spin offs, with sectors ranging from medicine to energy, all of which will provide a valuable boost to the UK economy.

A UK technology centre, OpTIC, which is part of Glyndwr University in North Wales, is already delivering prototypes for the telescope’s primary mirror system, which will consist of 798 hexagonal mirrors each 1.4m wide.  This has required the development of new mechanical polishing methods at a scale of ten thousand times thinner than a human hair, which alone represents a significant boost in large optics manufacturing capability to the UK. 
Major opportunities for UK companies range from civil engineering, steel structure fabrication, optics and detector systems; cryogenics, vacuum systems and coating systems, to name a few.

The E-ELT Groundbreaking event, which will take place 19 June from 5.30pm UK time, can be witnessed live on Livestream (, or on YouTube ( 

More information on the UK role in the E-ELT can be found at:

Wendy Ellison
+44 (0) 7919 548012

Jake Gilmore
+44 (0) 7970 994586


Notes to Editors

— Further details on the E-ELT Groundbreaking can be viewed at

— Further details on UK £88million investment into the E-ELT can be found at:

— The UK funding for the E-ELT is managed by STFC, on behalf of the UK astronomy community. STFC subscribes to ESO to give UK astronomers access to its telescopes.

Further information about the E-ELT can be found at the following pages: (link opens in a new window) (link opens in a new window) (link opens in a new window) 
A video overview of how E-ELT will look and operate can be found here: (link opens in a new window) 
More videos can be downloaded from ESO’s website: (link opens in a new window) 

More E-ELT images can be found here: (link opens in a new window).
These can all be used as long as ESO is credited.
Further images and information are available from the STFC press office.

SpaceRef staff editor.