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January 29, 2023



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The names of the second ones


Despite appearances, and although the differences between them are virtually imperceptible, the mirrors of the Gran Telescopio CANARIAS are not identical. Each segment has been engineered to within a millimeter to fit perfectly into the primary mirror, so a way to tell them apart has had to be devised.

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    The reverse of each segment is therefore inscribed with special codes so that the engineers and technicals can tell which of the 42 named pieces they are looking at. “Lanzarote”, “Timanfaya”, “Aderno”, “Cardón” “Guincho” and “Saltona”, the first to be mounted in the supports for the huge mirror, were not the only ones in attendance at First Light. “Fuerteventura”, “Jandía”, “Mocán”, “Retama”, “Pardela” and “Vivo” also took the stage for this milestone event in the telescope's life.

    The 42 pieces will have a dual role: one purely scientific, the other promotional. They will help to spread knowledge about the islands and their flora, fauna, folklore and natural parks far beyond the limits of the archipelago.


    As you might expect, seven of the mirror segments were baptised with the names of the islands. "Fuerteventura" is one, from the second batch of mirrors, bearing the name of the farthest-flung island in the Canarian archipelago. Famed for its vast beaches of golden sand and as a real oasis in the Atlantic, 39% of Fuerteventura's land is protected and some of it is outstandingly beautiful. Enclaves like the Corralejo Dunes, the island of Lobos, the Jandía natural park and Mount Tindaya, where ancient carvings by the first inhabitants were discovered, are true 'jewels' in the natural heritage of the Canaries.

    Known as "the tranquil island", Fuerteventura is the second largest in the archipelago with an area of 1,658 km2. Coastal villages and cities, like the capital Puerto del Rosario, exist side by side with volcanic cones and great undulating plains that are scattered with gofio mills, the toasted cereal flour that to this day is an essential ingredient in many of the island dishes.

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    Located in the municipality of Pájara, in the south of Fuerteventura, Jandía National Park is one of eleven in the Canarian archipelago. The fauna and flora in its well-protected habitats include many endemic, threatened and protected species. This natural enclave has also been declared a Special Zone for the Protection of Birds, representing as it does an area of vital importance for internationally-protected species. The area also boasts geomorphological structures typical of the island's geology, such as the Jandía hulk, with characteristics like piles of basaltic lava or large expanses of sedimentary sands. Declared a National Park in 2002, the enclave covers an area of 14,318 hectares and is an outstanding example of a virtually pristine very ecologically sensitive landscape.

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    The history of the mocans, a type of tree that is now rare, is intimately linked to the first inhabitants of the Canary Islands. They used its sap to make ‘chercequén’, a fermented drink used in rituals. Its scientific name is Visnea mocanera and in optimum conditions it can reach heights of up to 15 metres.

    Mocans like heat, which is why they can usually be found in ravines and gully areas where they can soak up the sun. Its leaves and fruits, which are the size of chickpeas and are black when ripe, have a number of medicinal properties including anti-inflammatory, analgesic and the ability to aid the scar formation. 

    Although not considered an endangered speicies, the mocán is protected and is categorised as an endemic tree of the Macaronesia region (Madeira and the Canaries), as it is the only example of the Theaceae family in this zone as well as in north Africa. A number of local authorities in the islands, including El Rosario, have launched campaigns to conserve this tree and introduced requirements for local people to plant it in their gardens. 

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    Seven of the mirrors for the Gran Telescopio CANARIAS have been given names of native trees and plants, some of them endemic to the islands like the "Retama". This endangered species grows higher up on mountain slopes (it is known colloquially as the 'Summit Broom'), at heights above 2,000 metres in the Cañadas del Teide National Park in Tenerife. It is also present on mountain formations like the Caldera del Taburiente on La Palma. Its flowers, which are white and pink and have a powerful smell, are visited by a number of varieties of bee, which produce excellent honey in the areas around Mount Teide.  

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    Pardela in Spanish means Shearwater, and of all the types in existence the Little Shearwater (Puffinus assimilis) is the one listed in the National Catalogue of Endangered Species as being at risk. Like the Cory's Shearwater (Calonectris diomedea) and the Manx shearwater (Puffinus puffinus), both declared of special scientific interest, the Little Shearwater spends much of its life on the ocean, returning to land only during the breeding season. It nests on cliffs, rocks and islets and raises a single chick.

    The history of these birds is intimately linked with that of the Canary islanders. Not only did they provide an important source of food in times of need, their fat was also a valuable commodity in itself. Their numbers are reducing due to intense artificial lighting in coastal areas, which disorentitates the young birds and causes them to fly into obstacles. Large numbers are found dead on the ground in the early summer each year.


    The dance of the Vivo originated on the island of El Hierro, where it still exists. It is danced by a single couple and the woman takes the lead. She acts out getting dressed up, adjusting her waistband, arranging her skirts and polishing her shoes. Meanwhile the man mimics her steps in a burlesque dance in front of her, trying to distract her with his pantomime so that he can knock off her hat, the dance's final act.

    A dance with similar steps exists among the sephardic Jews in Tetuan and in a number of villages in the Andes, confirming the long journey that this remote hispanic dance has made. It has travelled all the way to the heart of America from its staging post in the Canaries.

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    In the coming months six more segments will be added to the primary mirror of the Gran Telescopio CANARIAS, in addition to the twelve that are already in place. They have been named “El Hierro”, “Folia” (a Canarian dance), “Capirote” (the Blackcap, an indigenous bird), “Almácigo” (Mount Atlas Mastic, a tree of the archipelago), “Taburiente” (National Park) y “Tabaiba” (a Canarian plant).

    In a little less than a year, when its primary mirror will be complete, the GTC will set out on its scientific journey, beginning its exploration of the confines of the Universe from its starting point in the starry La Palma sky.

    TEXT: Maria Teresa Bermudez Villaescusa

    TRANSLATION: Nigel Moore

    Further information on the First Light ceremony (in Spanish):



    El Gran Telescopio CANARIAS deslumbra en su Primera Luz (14/07/2007)

    El Gran Telescopio CANARIAS observa su Primera Luz (12/07/2007)

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