World's biggest telescope is launched in Spain

12th July 2007, Comments 0 comments

12 July 2007, MADRID - How was the universe born? What happens in distant galaxies? Are we alone in the universe?

12 July 2007

MADRID - How was the universe born? What happens in distant galaxies? Are we alone in the universe?

The study of astrophysics is about to take a step forward when Spain inaugurates the world's biggest optical telescope, known as the GTC or Grantecan, which are abbreviations for "large telescope of the Canary Islands."

On Friday night, the gigantic telescope is due to peer into space for the first time. The ceremony, to be attended by Crown Prince Felipe, launches a final test phase after which the GTC is due to become operational next year.

The telescope has a primary mirror measuring 10.4 metres in diameter, the biggest among only about 10 telescopes of a comparable size in the world.

"The bigger the mirror, the more light the telescope can capture and the further it can see," Pedro Alvarez, director of the GTC project, explained.

The telescope will be able to see into galaxies millions of light years away and to spot dim planets which have gone undetected by less powerful equipment.

The telescope costing nearly 130 million euros (180 million dollars) took seven years to build, four years longer than planned.

The delay was caused partly by difficulties in hauling parts of the telescope weighing a total of 500 tons to a height of 2,400 metres in the rough weather conditions of the winter months.

The GTC is located at the astrophysical research station of Roque de los Muchachos at the highest point of the Canary Island of La Palma, where it rises above the clouds to watch a clear sky.

In contrast to an older generation of telescopes, the primary mirror of which consists of one piece, the curved mirror of the Canaries telescope will be formed by 36 hexagonal pieces.

Only 12 of the pieces have been installed so far, but that is sufficient for initial test runs.

Because light travels at a speed of 300,000 kilometres per second, telescopes are able to record images of events which occurred thousands of millions of years ago.

The GTC will look into galaxies in their formation process, enhancing understanding about how the universe was born.

It may also discover new planetary systems.

"It would be wonderful if this telescope allowed us to detect a planet like ours," Alvarez said, adding that the Earth was unlikely to be the only planet with conditions favourable to life.

"The problem is, that the universe is so immense in size and time, that the possibility of detecting other planets with characteristics similar to ours is really remote," he told the daily El Mundo.

The telescope has been financed by the Spanish and regional Canaries authorities, with partner universities in Mexico and the United States covering about 10 per cent of the cost.

[Copyright DPA with Expatica]

Subject: Spanish news 

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