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Danish astronomers can seek extra-terrestrial life with world’s largest telescope

April 16, 2013
Three Danish universities have invested in the world’s largest telescope, which will give Danish astronomers the opportunity to study planets in other solar systems in previously unseen detail, while Danish companies can bid on contracts and help develop and build the telescope.

Danish astronomers will now have access to the largest and most ambitious telescope in the world, which would be able to show if there is life on planets in other solar systems.

Aarhus University, the University of Copenhagen and DTU Space have agreed to invest a total of DKK 37 million in the telescope, which will be called the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT).

With a diameter of 39 metres, E-ELT will be nearly four times larger than the American Keck telescope based in Hawaii, which is currently the largest in the world.

The aim is to study other solar systems, and the first stars and galaxies in the universe in previously unseen detail. With the E-ELT, Danish astronomers will be able to study black holes more closely and measure how quickly the universe develops, and thereby challenge our current knowledge of the general laws of physics.

Minister for Science, Innovation and Higher Education, Morten Østergaard emphasises that the unequivocal backing from the three universities was crucial to the decision for Denmark to participate in the project.

- Danish astronomers have contributed crucial new knowledge about the universe and the laws of physics. I am greatly pleased that they now will have access to the future’s most powerful telescope and thereby help to ensure the leading position of Danish astronomy in the future. I also hope that Danish companies will contribute with innovative solutions to the E-ELT – which will be the result of the most advanced technology in the field, says Morten Østergaard.

Denmark’s association with the project means that Danish companies will have the opportunity to bid for contracts and help develop and build the E-ELT, which will result from cutting-edge technologies.

International research organisation European Southern Observatory (ESO) is behind the E-ELT. Like other ESO telescopes, the E-ELT will be located in the Chilean desert. With a budget of a little over EUR 1 billion, the telescope is expected to be finished in 2023.

The Ministry of Science, Innovation and Higher Education is financing an increase in the Danish membership contribution to ESO, so that the total Danish contribution to the E-ELT will be in the region of DKK 65 million paid out over 10 years.

ESO currently owns some of the world’s largest and most modern telescopes and its resulting data is found in half of all scientific astronomy articles.

Danish astronomers already use ESO’s existing La Silla, Paranal and ALMA observatories in Chile. The Chilean desert only has 3 per cent humidity and is therefore ideal for space observations.

For further information please contact:

Special Adviser Cecilie Tornøe, tel. +45 7231 8284, email: ct@fi.dk
Press and Communications Adviser Steen Bruun Jensen, tel. +45 4132 6030, email: sbj@fi.dk

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