To look further into space and time than ever before possible, astronomers needed to get a mountaintop out of the way first. The top of Chile's Cerro Armazones mountain was blasted to rubble Thursday to clear the way for the European Southern Observatory's Extremely Large Telescope, which will be the world's biggest, with a main mirror nearly 128 feet in diameter, the Christian Science Monitor reports. Around a million tons of rock was shifted in the blast, which helped create a plateau on which to build the huge telescope amid ideal stargazing conditions in the remote Atacama Desert. The "E-ELT" is expected to be up and running early next decade.
The Guardian breaks down the numbers: The E-ELT will be four times bigger than any other telescope, will collect light 15 times faster than any other telescope, will create images 16 times sharper than the Hubble Space Telescope, and will have a main mirror made up of 789 interlocking hexagonal slabs. With all that power, the huge telescope will be able to see objects formed at the beginning of the universe, help researchers explore mysteries like dark matter, and give scientists a good look at extrasolar planets that could be capable of sustaining life, Wired reports. "This telescope will be so powerful that it will collect enough light to look to the observable limit of the Universe—soon after the Big Bang, when the first stars and galaxies formed," a project scientist tells the BBC. "We'll be able to see when the universe switched on." (The much older and smaller Hubble telescope, meanwhile, is still up there—and has provided a stunning image of 10,000 galaxies of all shapes, sizes, and ages.)