Construction of a giant telescope that will have a resolution 10 times that of the Hubble spacecraft has begun in Chile.
On Wednesday, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet put hammer to stone at the construction site to mark the beginning of the assembly phase for The Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT).
The telescope will be situated on a wind-buffeted, 2,500-metre mountaintop that is uniquely suited for such an instrument because of its dry air and minimal light pollution.
The device is scheduled to be completed by 2024 and will be able to observe black holes in the distant cosmos and make out planets in other solar systems with unprecedented detail.
Astronomers believe that the additional resolution granted by the GMT will help humans to determine how the universe formed and if planets hundreds of light years away could support life.
"With this science, there are no limits to the possibilities that are open," said Bachelet. "What it does is open the door to understanding."
The GMT is the result of a collaboration of institutions in the United States, Chile, South Korea, Brazil, and Australia.
It relies on seven intricately curved lenses, each almost 8.5 metres wide. For the system to work effectively, no one lens can have a blemish of more than 25nm, which is some 4000 times smaller than the average width of a human hair.
"Astronomy is like archaeology; what we see in the sky happened many years ago," said Yuri Beletsky, a Belarussian astronomer for the GMT. "The biggest expectation is that we find something that we don't expect."
Two other massive instruments akin to the GMT are planned and both are scheduled to be completed in the 2020s.
The European Extremely Large Telescope will also be constructed in Chile, while the Thirty Meter Telescope will be located in Hawaii.
GMT President Patrick McCarthy hopes that the massive single lenses of the telescopes will allow for more precise measurements and the possible observation of dark matter, mysterious invisible material that makes up most of the universe's mass.