Seven prominent Canadian universities - namely, the University of Waterloo, the University of British Columbia, University of Toronto, McGill University, the University of Western Ontario, McMaster University and the University of Calgary - have signed a memorandum of agreement to join as partners in the Cerro Chajnantor Atacama Telescope (CCAT) project seeking to build a proposed 25-meter aperture telescope that will be built in Chile.

When completed, this will be the largest, most precise and highest astronomical facility in the world.

The project was initiated by the California Institute of Technology and Cornell University in 2004; since then several other institutions from the United States and beyond have joined the consortium - such as the University of Colorado at Boulder, the universities of Cologne and Bonn in Germany, and Associated Universities Inc. of Washington, D.C.

The Chilean Andes with its altitude and arid climate is considered to be one of the most congenial sites for high-powered telescopes. The submillimeter-wavelength telescope will be built 18,400 feet above sea level on the Cerro Chajnantor mountain in Chile's Atacama desert and will enable large-scale surveys of the sky and complement the international Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA) - a telescope with more than 60 high precision radio antennas now under construction at the same location, albeit at a lower altitude. The CCAT, with its 25-meter diameter will give astronomers a new window into the epoch of star and galaxy formation, providing answers to some of the most fundamental questions of cosmology.

Speaking to The Globe and Mail on this, University of Waterloo astronomy and physics professor Michel Fich, who is also the leader of the Canadian part of the CCAT project, said: We're really trying to understand our history, trying to understand the origins of the universe.