SANTIAGO DE CHILE - Chilean President Michelle Bachelet inaugurated the construction of the Giant Magellan Telescope, or GMT telescope, in the country's Atacama Desert Wednesday.
The GMT is set to be the world's largest telescope on beginning operations in 2021.
"This project will mark the progress of national astronomy. It is a significant process. Difficulties have been overcome and it was worth all the effort as we will create new observation capabilities. A new window to knowledge is being opened," Bachelet told journalists.
The ceremony, at the Las Campanas mountain top in northern Chile's Coquimbo region, was attended by government officials and scientists linked to the consortium of 11 international founding institutions, which have pledged more than $500 million for the project.
The founders belong to the U.S., Australia, Brazil and Korea, with Chile as the host country.
Once operational, the new telescope will produce images ten times sharper than the ones produced by the Hubble Space Telescope and will tackle key issues on cosmology, astrophysics and the study of planets outside our solar system.
The telescope's design brings together seven giant mirrors, the largest possible to manufacture, each 8.4 meters wide (27.5 feet), to create one single telescopic device with a 25-meter diameter.
"An enormous amount of work has gone into the design phase of the Project and development of the giant mirrors that are the heart of the telescope. The highest technical risks challenges have been overcome, and we are looking forward to bringing the components of the telescope together on the mountain top," said GMT organization Interim President Patrick McCarthy.
The new telescope will moreover allow scientists to characterize planets orbiting other stars, witness the early formation of galaxies and stars and obtain evidence of dark matter and dark energy.
The GMT will be set up at the Las Campanas Observatory in Chile's Atacama Desert, the most arid in the world and known for its clear, dark skies that make for exceptional picture quality.