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Sunday, 15 July 2007 18:56

Great Canary Telescope flies free for first time

On Friday, July 13, 2007, the Great Canary Telescope (GCT), located on a mountain within the Canary Islands, began a one-year series of tests and preliminary observations on its 10.4 meter (34.1-foot) main mirror, the world's largest telescope for seeing visible and infrared light.

The telescope is located on top of a volcanic peak that is 2,400 meters (about 1.5 miles)  above sea level.

The reflective telescope, sometimes also called GranTeCan, uses technology called adaptive optics, in which the mirror changes its shape in order to correct distortions of light caused by the Earth’s atmosphere. The telescope is part of the Observatorio del Roque de los Muchachos, located on the island of La Palma, Spain, within the Atlantic Ocean.

Currently, its adaptive optics system controls 12 hexagonal segments of the primary mirror for testing and observations. Later, when fully operational, the telescope will use 36 movable segments.

Observatorio de Roque de los Muchachos (translated as Observatory of Castle of the Boys) is an astronomical observatory that is operated by the Instituto de Astrofisica de Canarias (Canaries Astrophysics Institute), a part of the European Northern Observatory.

The second largest telescopes in the world, by usable mirror size, are the twin Keck telescopes on Mauna Kea, Hawaii, in the United States, which have mirror diameters that measure 10 meters (32.8 feet) across. It is interesting to note that the Hobby-Eberly Telescope, also in the United States—near Fort Davis, Texas in the southwestern part of the state—and the South African Large Telescope have larger mirrors but only a portion of each mirror is able to be used when making observations.

Astronomers hope that the new Great Canary Telescope, which took approximately seven years to construct, will be able to collect new information on very distant and faint objects and the structure and composition of the early universe, just after the explosion called the big bang.

Additional information on the Great Canary Telescope is found at: https://www.gtc.iac.es/home.html and https://www.gtcdigital.net/eng/.

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