Press Release

ESO’s Extremely Large Telescope is now half completed

11 July 2023

The European Southern Observatory’s Extremely Large Telescope (ESO’s ELT) is a revolutionary ground-based telescope that will have a 39-metre main mirror and will be the largest telescope in the world for visible and infrared light: the world’s biggest eye on the sky. Construction of this technically complex project is advancing at a good pace, with the ELT now surpassing the 50% complete milestone.

The telescope is located atop Cerro Armazones in Chile's Atacama Desert, where engineers and construction workers are currently assembling the structure of the telescope dome at a staggering pace. Visibly changing each day, the steel structure will soon acquire the familiar round shape typical of telescope domes.

The telescope mirrors and other components are being built by companies in Europe, where work is also progressing well. ESO’s ELT will have a pioneering five-mirror optical design, which includes a giant main mirror (M1) made up of 798 hexagonal segments. More than 70% of the blanks and supports for these segments have now been manufactured, while M2 and M3 are cast and in the process of being polished. Progress on M4, an adaptive, flexible mirror that will adjust its shape a thousand times a second to correct for distortions caused by air turbulence, is particularly impressive: all six of its thin petals are fully finalised and being integrated into their structural unit. Further, all six laser sources, another key component of the ELT’s adaptive optics system, have been produced and delivered to ESO for testing.

All other systems needed to complete the ELT, including the control system and the equipment needed to assemble and commission the telescope, are also progressing well in their development or production. Moreover, all four of the first scientific instruments the ELT will be equipped with are in their final design phase with some about to start manufacturing. In addition, most of the support infrastructure for the ELT is now in place at or near Cerro Armazones. For example, the technical building that, among other things, will be used for storage and coating of different ELT mirrors is fully erected and fitted out, while a photovoltaic plant that supplies renewable energy to the ELT site started operating last year.

Construction of ESO’s ELT was kickstarted nine years ago with a groundbreaking ceremony. The top of Cerro Armazones was flattened in 2014 to allow for space for the giant telescope.

Completing the remaining 50% of the project, however, is anticipated to be significantly quicker than building the first half of the ELT. The first half of the project included the lengthy and meticulous process of finalising the design of the vast majority of components to be manufactured for the ELT. In addition, some of the elements, such as mirror segments and its supporting components and sensors, required detailed prototyping and significant testing before being produced en masse. Furthermore, construction was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, with the site closing for several months and production of many of the telescope components suffering delays. With production processes now fully resumed and streamlined, finalising the remaining half of the ELT is anticipated to take only five years. Nonetheless building such a large and complex telescope like the ELT is not free of risks until it's finished and working.

ESO Director General Xavier Barcons says: “The ELT is the largest of the next generation of ground-based optical and near-infrared telescopes and the one that is most advanced in its construction. Reaching 50% completion is no small feat, given the challenges inherent to large, complex projects, and it was only possible thanks to the commitment of everyone at ESO, the continued support of the ESO Member States and the engagement of our partners in industry and instrument consortia. I am extremely proud that the ELT has reached this milestone.”

Planned to start scientific observations in 2028, ESO’s ELT will tackle astronomical questions such as: Are we alone in the Universe? Are the laws of physics Universal? How did the first stars and galaxies form? It will dramatically change what we know about our Universe and will make us rethink our place in the cosmos.


The percentage completion of the ELT is estimated based on its ‘earned value’, a project management metric used to evaluate progress on a project that accounts for schedule and cost. At present the ELT is 50% through the project plan.

More information

The European Southern Observatory (ESO) enables scientists worldwide to discover the secrets of the Universe for the benefit of all. We design, build and operate world-class observatories on the ground — which astronomers use to tackle exciting questions and spread the fascination of astronomy — and promote international collaboration for astronomy. Established as an intergovernmental organisation in 1962, today ESO is supported by 16 Member States (Austria, Belgium, Czechia, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom), along with the host state of Chile and with Australia as a Strategic Partner. ESO’s headquarters and its visitor centre and planetarium, the ESO Supernova, are located close to Munich in Germany, while the Chilean Atacama Desert, a marvellous place with unique conditions to observe the sky, hosts our telescopes. ESO operates three observing sites: La Silla, Paranal and Chajnantor. At Paranal, ESO operates the Very Large Telescope and its Very Large Telescope Interferometer, as well as survey telescopes such as VISTA. Also at Paranal ESO will host and operate the Cherenkov Telescope Array South, the world’s largest and most sensitive gamma-ray observatory. Together with international partners, ESO operates ALMA on Chajnantor, a facility that observes the skies in the millimetre and submillimetre range. At Cerro Armazones, near Paranal, we are building “the world’s biggest eye on the sky” — ESO’s Extremely Large Telescope. From our offices in Santiago, Chile we support our operations in the country and engage with Chilean partners and society. 



Bárbara Ferreira
ESO Media Manager
Garching bei München, Germany
Tel: +49 89 3200 6670
Cell: +49 151 241 664 00

Connect with ESO on social media

About the Release

Release No.:eso2310
Name:Extremely Large Telescope
Type:Unspecified : Technology : Observatory
Facility:Extremely Large Telescope


Standing tall, and appearing in shape much like the ruins of the Roman colosseum, the ELT dominates the centre of this image. Its concrete circular base is topped by a criss-crossed network of steel beams. The image is taken at night time and behind the ELT dome, which is still under construction, the sky is alive with stars. The horizon has a red hue to it, while greens and blues dance above. Over to the right of the dazzling sky, the bright white of the Milky Way is streaking across the sky. A tall crane is also present over on the right hand side of the image, while another is peeking out from the bottom left.
Night view of the ELT under construction atop Cerro Armazones
This aerial photograph shows the construction site of the Extremely Large Telescope, ELT, kissed by golden sunlight. The circular structure is made up of steel beams criss-crossing each other, all of which are sat on top of the concrete base. One gets a sense of how big the ELT structure is when comparing it to a white car, parked just left of centre at the left of the image — it is tiny compared to this colossal structure. In the bottom right small ant-like creatures are strolling about — these are the construction workers, dwarfed by the sheer scale of the ELT. Large cranes and other construction equipment are strewn around the outer edges of the structure. Off into the distance behind the construction site the brown, empty landscape with hills and smooth mountains of the Atacama desert stretches out.
Drone shot of the ELT under construction at Cerro Armazones
This aerial photograph, taken soaring above the ground using a drone, shows the construction site of the Extremely Large Telescope, ELT. The site is basking in golden sunlight that is creeping in from this side of the image. The circular structure of the telescope is almost directly below the camera and is made up of steel beams, criss-crossing each other. At the centre of the circle a white crane stands tall, pointing off to the left side of the image. One gets a sense of how big the ELT structure is when comparing it to a white car, parked just left of centre at the top of the image — it is tiny compared to this colossal structure. Along the left hand side a brown dirt road winds around the building.
The ELT under construction, as seen from above


50% mark reached! | ELT updates
50% mark reached! | ELT updates