September 18, 2019

30.10.09:The World’s Largest Telescope is Unveiled.

Move over Keck… the world’s largest telescope is now in service! The Gran Telescopio Canaris (GTC) was commissioned this summer on July 24th. Perched on La Palma island in the Canary Islands, this beast sports a 10.4-meter segmented mirror. This gives it a collection area over 6 square meters larger than contending 8 to 10 meter instruments world-wide. A joint effort of Spain, Mexico, and the University of Florida, this instrument is expected to further push back our understanding of the frontiers of astronomy. Of course, as reported earlier, bigger scopes are on the drawing board; but as astronomy moves out beyond the Earth’s atmosphere, the age of the terrestrial mega-scope may be coming to an end in our lifetime. Scopes like the GTC rely of computer sensors to keep its 36 mirror segments aligned and acting as one. This is much easier than the old school method of casting one giant parabolic mirror, which would be cumbersome and nearly impossible from an engineering standpoint. The GTC sits at an altitude of 2,400 meters, well above a good bulk of the blurring atmosphere. Other scopes, such as the Large Binocular Telescope (LBT) on Mount Graham, Arizona, rely on a technique known as interferometry to increase resolution. This places two telescopes along a precisely measured base line, and thus provides the resolution of one large mirror. Terrestrial scopes up to 100 meters (!) in size have been proposed and are on the drawing board…let the scope wars begin!