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Big Astronomy Demands Prompt Growth for European Observatory

The European Southern Observatory is expanding its headquarters in Germany to meet the growing demands of its current and future projects, including an audacious plan to build the largest telescope on Earth, observatory officials say.

The new office and technical building at ESO's existing headquarters in Garching, Germany will more than double the area currently occupied by the intergovernmental agency, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

The new ESO facilities will be used to house more staff, and to support technological innovations for projects such as the planned European Extremely Large Telescope, which is being billed as the world's largest optical telescope.

"The construction of the new building is an important milestone in ESO's history as it will enable us to work even more efficiently towards achieving our vision of building and operating world-class ground-based observing facilities," Tim de Zeeuw, ESO's director general, said in a statement. "At the same time, having all our headquarters staff working in one place will provide a strong sense of identity."

The additions will include a new office and technical building, plus a covered bridge to connect them to the original facilities on the campus. The new designs will modern and innovatively styled, but will also maintain the curved look of the existing buildings, ESO officials said.

The new facilities will be "green buildings," and will make extensive use of natural light, they added.

The design of the new buildings is being handled by German architecture firm Auer+Weber. Construction began in January and work is expected to be complete near the end of 2013.

ESO operates several large telescopes located in Chile, including the New Technology Telescope at the La Silla Observatory, the Very Large Telescope on Cerro Paranal in the Atacama Desert, and the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA), also in the Atacama Desert.

The 138-foot (42-meter) European Extremely Large Telescope will be built in the Cerro Amazones in Chile. Construction of the $1.43 billion telescope is scheduled to begin this year.

ESO is made up of 15 member states, and employs roughly 740 total staff members at its headquarters in Germany and at the organization's observatories in Chile.