Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Brazil Ignites Telescope Race

On 29 December, Brazil announced its intention to join the European Southern Observatory (ESO), which operates the VLT among other sites in Chile. If ratified by Brazil's parliament, the move will make it the consortium's fifteenth, and first non-European, member. It also significantly improves the odds that the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT), an optical behemoth that would be the world's largest telescope and possibly the most important astronomical tool of the century, will be built on the summit of Cerro Armazones in Chile's Atacama Desert, with construction to begin as soon as next year.

The deal will give Brazil's astronomers access to ESO's facilities and put the country's burgeoning high-tech sector in a position to bid competitively on building components for the E-ELT. In return, Brazil will contribute about €300 million (US$400 million) to ESO over ten years, including a €130-million entry fee. That is enough to tip the scales in favour of the E-ELT being built and to cement ESO's status as the world's leading astronomical research entity.

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