Italy is proposing to build one of the world's most modern telescopes in an unused mineral mine.
Officials hope that the uncommon stillness of the place in Sardinia will win European Union approval and financing.
The Sos Enathos lead and zinc mine extends 300 meters underground. The Italian government chose the mine as its candidate place for the Einstein Telescope (ET).
The EU-financed project aims to explore space by observing gravitational waves.
Gravitational waves are the ripples in space and time that physicist Albert Einstein predicted in his general theory of relativity. Collisions of super massive things like black holes are believed to cause the waves.
Researchers expect the telescope to capture the waves. They hope it will observe a part of the universe that is much larger than the part scientists now study with currently used tools.
But the project will only work if ground movements, known as vibrations, are extremely small.
Giorgio Parisi was a winner of the 2021 Physics Nobel Prize for his work in complex systems.
Parisi and other scientists said the Sos Enathos mine is a great choice because of the area's low seismic activity and the lack of major settlements nearby.
Parisi told the Reuters news agency about the project:
"It will allow us...to see events very close to when the Big Bang happened" around 14 billion years ago.
The Big Bang is the event scientists say marked the beginning of the universe.
Still, Italy faces competition from a site in Meuse-Rhine, an area divided among the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium.
The official decision will take place no sooner than the end of next year.
Italy believes that the project can bring much-needed investment to the island of Sardinia, one of the country's poorest areas.
The Italian project's proposed design involves a triangle-shaped underground structure with arms 10 kilometers long.
Mirrors at the ends of underground passageways will reflect laser beams, which would be affected by the passage of gravitational waves. The ET will be used to look for the small vibrations that the waves cause.
Sos Enathos is in eastern Sardinia. The place was a mining area for at least 2,000 years before it was closed in 1997.
Local officials now believe the telescope plan provides a chance to bring new life to an area hit by a decreasing birth rates and depopulation.
"The mine has become the alternative to the mine," Mario Calia, the 63-year-old mayor of Lula, a small town near the mine, told Reuters.
Calia is a former miner. He said the project would leave Lula's natural lands untouched while bringing in investment.
I’m John Russell.