Spain to uncover secrets of the universe with huge telescope

Spain is set to inaugurate a huge telescope on the Canary Islands, billed as the world’s biggest scope for visible and infrared light and set to give astronomers a vital tool to map the universe.
Scientists behind the Great Canary Telescope (GTC) say it is as powerful as four million human eyes combined and will allow researchers to peer into the darkest and most distant corners of space.
The observatory, perched on a mountain on the island of La Palma, will help astronomers with a wide range of research, from discovering new planets, to exploring galaxies and analysing black holes.
Spain’s King Juan Carlos will on Friday officially inaugurate the telescope, which cost more than 100 million euros (143 million dollars) to build.
Its 36 separate pieces form a huge circular mirror which collects light on a surface almost 82 square metres in size, according to the scope’s developer, the Institute of Astrophysics of the Canaries (IAC).
The IAC says is it is the largest device of its kind in the world and is bigger than the American Keck observatory in Hawaii and the four European VLT telescopes in Chile.
Researchers involved in the project believe the device will help “to discover things that are yet to be discovered” and “produce comparable images to those made by space telescopes, but of better quality as the GTC is bigger”.
Project director Pedro Alvarez said the GTC will be one of the world’s leading telescopes in the coming decade.
The observatory has been working partially since March with one of its optical devices, Osiris, which picks up objects visible to the naked eye, such as stellar explosions called supernovas.
Towards the end of the year an infrared camera called CanariCam, which picks up objects invisible to the naked eye, will start working.
Built in Florida, the camera will allow astronomers to observe the formation of stars and the most distant and faintest galaxies.
Scientists began mulling the idea of the huge telescope back in the late 1980s.
The telescope cost 104 million euros, 90 percent of which came from the Spanish government.
The rest was paid for by Mexico and the University of Florida in the United States.

Copyright AFP (Agence France-Presse), 2009