Technology & Science

Giant Canary Islands telescope captures first light

After seven years of construction, one of the world's most powerful telescopes is now scouring the skies atop a mountain on one of Spain's Canary Islands.

One of the world's largest and most powerful telescopes is now scouring the skies atop a Spanish mountain in the Atlantic Ocean.

The $179-million US Great Canary Telescope captured its first light on Saturday, focusing on Polaris, orNorth Star,on a clear night.

Spain's Crown Prince Filipe attended the ceremony, along with Brian May, lead guitarist of the band Queen, who has just earned his doctorate in astrophysics.

The Canary Island institute, where May completed his studies, said the telescope will be fully operational by May 2008.

"The GTC (Gran Telescopio Canarias) will be able to reach the weakest and most distant celestial objects of the universe," the institute said.

It's designed to capture the birth of new stars. It will also be able to study the characteristics of black holes and decipher the chemical components generated by the Big Bang, the institute said.

The Great Canary Telescope is part of the Roque de los Muchachos observatory, which is 2,400 metres above sea level. The region isfree from artificial light pollution and has relatively calmwind patterns.

For now, only 12 of the telescope's 36 mirrors have been installed. Once the rest are in working order, Spain's King Juan Carlos will preside over the inauguration, set for next summer.

May, who recently published BANG! The Complete History of the Universe with astronomers Patrick Moore and Chris Lintott, said he's adding the finishing touches to a musical score that will be played at the grand opening.

The Spanish government is the main owner of the GTC, with the University of Floridaand two institutes in Mexico as partners.