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Spain loses to Chile in telescope site fight

Europe’s forthcoming giant telescope will be built in Chile, despite attempts to sway a final vote on its location in favour of Spain, the European Southern Observatory has confirmed.

After ESO’s site selection committee recommended Cerro Armazones near Paranal, Chile in March this was always the front runner for the site of the planned European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT).

However, Spain had offered to stump up 300 million euro for construction at the La Palma site in the Canary Islands. In a recent letter to Nature Francisco Sanchez, of the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias, also warned of the earthquake risk in the Armazones site.

“European astronomy should not put all its eggs into one shaky basket, when there is an alternative secure site nearer home that offers equally good astronomical conditions,” he said earlier this month (letter pdf).

However, the ESO council has sided with the site selection committee, which stressed that, as well as the quality of sky, the Chile location would allow integration with existing facilities nearby.

“Council has concluded that the overriding driver for the decision on the location of the E-ELT should be the scientific quality of the site,” says ESO in a statement. “The scientific qualities of Cerro Armazones and the positive impact that locating the E-ELT there will have on the future scientific leadership of ESO are sufficiently compelling to outweigh the very substantial offer made by Spain.”

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Image: night-time panorama of Cerro Armazones / ESO/S. Brunier


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