TechTime Capsule of the Extremely Large Telescope. It was sunk in concrete

Time Capsule of the Extremely Large Telescope. It was sunk in concrete

ELT time capsule submerged in concrete
ELT time capsule submerged in concrete
Images source: © ESO

7:41 AM EDT, October 25, 2023

The European Southern Observatory (ESO) has announced the burial of a time capsule. The mysterious object is at the construction site of the Extremely Large Telescope (ELT).

The Extremely Large Telescope (ELT) is located in the central part of the Atacama desert. In a few years, it will become part of the Paranal system, which is special in its own right. Its optical system will be 20 times more accurate than the ground-based telescopes currently in use, and that's not all.

Extremely Large Telescope (ELT)

The ELT is also predicted to be more useful than contemporary space telescopes. Segments of its primary mirror will form a structure with a diameter of approximately 129 feet. It will be capable of capturing about 250 times more light than the Hubble Telescope.

In this respect, it will not surpass the Webb Telescope, but the quality obtained by the ELT will in many cases be superior. Not all the light wavelengths available to Webb will reach it, but it will be more stable.

His next mirror (M4) will be equipped with adaptive optics technology and will correct atmospheric turbulence. The search for exoplanets and observation of stars and galaxies with the use of ELT will be possible and easier.

ELT visualization at the top of Cerro Armazones mountain
ELT visualization at the top of Cerro Armazones mountain© ESO

Time Capsule of the Extremely Large Telescope

A time capsule is not necessary for the operation of ELT, but it was created because of it. It was sealed in 2017 at the time of laying the cornerstone for the construction of the observatory.

It contains:

  • drawings by children living nearby, featuring landscapes of northern Chile, astronomical objects and ESO telescopes,
  • collages of photos of ESO staff,
  • a photo book about the Atacama Desert,
  • a book about the scientific value of ELT: "An Expanded View of the Universe",
  • a commemorative pen from the Chilean government
  • a glass plaque dedicated to the then President of Chile, Michelle Bachelet Jeria
Sealing of the Extremely Large Telescope time capsule
Sealing of the Extremely Large Telescope time capsule© ESO | FERNANDO-CARRASCO-CRUCHAGA

Its significance is symbolic, but the capsule was submerged in concrete at an equally significant time. In 2023, the 60th anniversary of the collaboration between ESO and Chile on the observatories in the Atacama desert falls.

The Negative Side of Building the Extremely Large Telescope

This is not a collaboration that is purely profitable for everyone. The location of the ELT required an unpolluted sky. However, it involves significant interference in the previously wild area.

The summit of Cerro Armazones after the top was blasted for the construction of ELT.
The summit of Cerro Armazones after the top was blasted for the construction of ELT.© Licensor | Gerhard Hüdepohl

Paths developed around Mount Cerro Armazones, and its peak was even blasted away. In the desert, this seems like a small loss. However, it implies the implementation of irreversible changes in the natural environment.

Related content