SANTA CRUZ, Spain – The Great Telescope of the Canary Islands, or GTC, the world’s biggest and most technologically advanced, will unveil mysteries of the cosmos with its powerful mirror equivalent to the sight of 4 million pupils of the human eye.
The telescope, located on La Palma in the Spanish archipelago off the coast of West Africa, was inaugurated Friday by Spain’s king and queen along with officials and representatives of the scientific community.
In his inaugural speech, King Juan Carlos described the telescope as an “authentic scientific feat” that places Spain in a position of leadership.
The extreme competence and dedication of its scientists puts Spain among the first 10 countries in the world in this complex branch of science, the monarch said, adding that this project is the result of intense “cooperation on a national and international scale.”
The GTC is composed of 36 elements that together form a circular mirror whose dimensions reach 10.4 meters (34 feet) in diameter, making it the world’s biggest optical-infrared telescope.
Assisting at the ceremony together with GTC director Pedro Alvarez were Canary Islands regional Gov. Paulino Rivero along with representatives of the Autonomous University of Mexico and the Mexican National Institute of Astrophysics, Optics and Electronics and the University of Florida in the United States, which took part in its construction.
With the GTC it will be possible to distinguish planetary systems around stars relatively near the earth, study dark matter, discover how stars are born and peer into the farthest galaxies.
It will also permit a more profound study of the characteristics of black holes and their evolution, and find out what chemical elements were created after the “Big Bang.”
Finding planets like ours in orbit around other stars is one of the emblematic goals of this powerful instrument.
A powerful instrument with which to affirm “our future destiny,” Jose Narro, rector of the Autonomous University of Mexico, said, adding his conviction that scientific research opens minds and aids in the “fight against ignorance.”
Spain’s Science and Innovation Minister Cristina Garmendia said that the International Year of Astronomy in homage to Galileo is a good time to “relive an era that shook the foundations of our thinking.”
For Garmendia the telescope is the most complex of all instruments that man has designed to observe the stars, but beneath all the technology beats the same passion that moved Galileo, the same thirst for answers as the ancient Mayas and Egyptians had when they looked towards the heavens.
The project’s investment of 104 million euros ($146 million) is 90 percent subsidized by Spain and the remaining 10 percent by aid from Mexico and the United States.
Located at the El Roque de los Muchachos Observatory at more than 2,000 meters (6,557 feet) above sea level, it features measurements the size of a cathedral, weighs 500 tons, and boasts technology that not only allows it to capture more light than any other known telescope but to break down the light into a sharper, clearer focus.
Last month the telescope, which began operating in March 2009, offered the first scientific data from half a dozen observatory programs.
In the construction of this great scientific infrastructure that began in 2000, some 100 firms and more than 1,000 people have taken part. EFE