Construction began in Chile on Friday on the European Extremely Large Telescope, which when completed will be the world's largest optical telescope, some five times larger than the top observing instruments in use today.
The size of the ELT has the potential to transform our understanding of the universe, say its backers, with its main mirror that will measure some 39 meters (43 yards) across. Located on a 3,000 meter-high mountain in the middle of the Atacama desert, it is due to begin operating in 2024.
Among other capabilities, it will add to and refine astronomers' burgeoning discoveries of planets orbiting other stars, with the ability to find more smaller planets, image larger ones, and possibly characterize their atmospheres, a key step in understanding if life is present.
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