World’s biggest telescope, which will be able to capture pictures of distant planets, has been given European backing to be built.
The device is due to be completed in 2022 and once ready, it will be able to take direct images of planets orbiting distant stars.
Astronomers also hope it will be able to give an insight into the first galaxies to form after the Big Bang.
The European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT), which is intended to be situated on the top of the Cerro Armazones mountain in Chile, was approved by the Council of the European Southern Observatory (ESO).
Plans still need to be rubber-stamped by four ESO members, including the UK, but if the project is approved by all 15 member states, work on the telescope site is expected to start later this year.
The instrument will feature a main mirror spanning 39 metres, making it the largest optical telescope in the world.
Professor David Southwood, president of the Royal Astronomical Society, said: “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.”
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