Looking at our amazing universe
The Great Canaries Telescope (Grantecan or GTC) has been a key feature on the island of La Palma since 2000. The GTC is one of the biggest telescopes in the world and is revolutionising the way we understand outer space. Sixteen times bigger than the world famous Hubble telescope, GTC’s mission is to discover the most distant, barely perceptible cosmic bodies. It enjoys a unique environment on one of two sites which form the European Northern Observatory (ENO). Here the night sky is of particularly high quality and is protected by a special light pollution law. Each new investment in the telescope marks greater steps in astrophysics.
“2010 is another crucial year at GTC with the installation and commissioning of CanariCam”
Pedro Alvarez, Director of GTC programme at the IAC.
The telescope is the culmination of international cooperation between universities in Mexico, Florida and Spain, led by the Institute of Astrophysics in the Canaries (IAC) and using EU funding via the ERDF. This collaboration has brought together the necessary massive injection of funds with top-level technical input from three academic institutions.
Pushing the boundaries of today’s science
What the eye can detect
First light (the first step in the commissioning process) was established in July 2007, leading to first scientific results in around 18 months later. The equipment used at this stage of the telescope’s development is known as OSIRIS and concentrates on sky features which can be observed with the same radiation that we see with our eyes. This technology, which was developed by the IAC, is based on an optical camera and multi-object spectrograph.
Making the invisible visible
Another development is the construction of CanariCam, a new instrument designed by the University of Florida which uses a thermal infra-red camera and a spectrograph to view sky features emitting radiation not visible to our eyes, such as emerging stars and distant galaxies. This ground-breaking equipment holds out the promise of taking astronomy to a completely new level. Once installed and commissioned, which is scheduled for later in 2010, a new range of scientific data opens up.
These two types of equipment are allowing astronomers to improve their understanding of ‘black holes’, observe distant stars and galaxies and piece together the conditions that existed after the Big Bang.
Maintaining the momentum of discovery
Both OSIRIS and CanariCam are so-called ‘Day-One’ instruments, the camera equipment installed once the telescope is in place. Post Day-One there are other developments on the horizon. Further equipment is starting to be designed, some of which will use near-infrared technology to capture a different range of images, while other equipment will capture broadband and narrowband pictures of space.