Huge telescope opens in Spain's Canary Islands

Jul 24, 2009 By CARLOS MORENO , Associated Press Writer
The Gran Telescopio Canarias, one of the the world's largest telescopes is seen at the Roque de los Muchachos Observatory in the Canary Island of La Palma, Spain, Friday July 24, 2009. The euro130 million (US$179 million) telescope, designed to take advantage of pristine, clear skies at the Roque de los Muchachos observatory atop the Atlantic island of La Palma, was inaugurated Friday. (AP Photo/Carlos Moreno)

(AP) -- One of the world's most powerful telescopes opened its shutters for the first time Friday to begin exploring faint light from distant parts of the universe. The Gran Telescopio Canarias, a euro130 million ($185 million) telescope featuring a 34-foot (10.4-meter) reflecting mirror, sits atop an extinct volcano. Its location above cloud cover takes advantage of the pristine skies in the Atlantic Ocean.

Planning for the began in 1987 and has involved more than 1,000 people from 100 companies. It was inaugurated Friday by King Juan Carlos.

The observatory is located at 2,400 meters (7,870 feet) above sea-level where prevailing winds keep the atmosphere stable and transparent, the Canary Islands Astrophysics Institute said.

The institute, which runs the telescope, said it will capture the birth of stars, study characteristics of and decipher some of the chemical components of the Big Bang.

The telescope is composed of 36 separate mirrors that began slowly focusing in July 2007 to eventually act as a single large reflecting surface that directs light onto a central camera point.

Among those who have done research at La Palma is Brian May, lead guitarist of rock group Queen, who studied there for part of his doctorate in astrophysics at the institute.

May, who published "BANG! The Complete History of the Universe" with astronomers Patrick Moore and Chris Lintott, composed a musical score for the telescope's inauguration.

Large reflecting telescopes began making major contributions to astronomical research when Edwin Hubble perfected the technique of capturing photographic exposures of space with the then-massive 200-inch mirror at Mount Palomar Observatory, in north San Diego County, California in Jan. 1949.

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Associated Press Writer Harold Heckle in Madrid contributed to this report.
©2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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otto1923
not rated yet Jul 24, 2009
No canaries were harmed in the construction of this telescope (probably not).
TJ_alberta
not rated yet Jul 24, 2009
canaries? what are you thinking otto?

why can't I find Brian May's music for the opening on youtube?
otto1923
not rated yet Jul 25, 2009
Canary islands. Large telescopes. Mauna Loa environmentalists. Humor. Brian who? Otto knows only black metal. Try golgoroth.
otto1923
not rated yet Jul 25, 2009
What happens when the flank of the La Palma volcano collapses? Won't this screw up collimation?
bluehigh
1 / 5 (1) Jul 25, 2009
... pristine clear skies .... above cloud cover ...

It must have been the one bad day when the photo was taken!
otto1923
not rated yet Jul 25, 2009
Must be fireworks... or a burnt offering to the mountaingods. Should try that in Hawaii for new scopes or Pele might belch-
daveib6
not rated yet Jul 25, 2009
Its location above cloud cover takes advantage of the pristine skies in the Atlantic Ocean.

Check out the picture! How's that working out? Hmmmmm... Me thinks somebody has miscalculated the Cloud line.

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