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And there was light

06/09/2007

"One, two, three..." I counted them again (I was so nervous!). One two... twelve! Then all the separate reflections were brought together into one. We had done it! We had produced First Light .

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It was a month and a half ago and this place was full of people.... Big names were coming to visit me... The preparations were intense. A La Palma evening, the sea of clouds at my feet - it was the perfect setting for this event which had propelled me into the headlines... I can't say that I wasn't nervous, but not a single one of my actuators trembled... Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't introduce myself. I am the Gran Telescopio CANARIAS, but you my friends can call me GTC.

On that night of the 13th of July, the sky was so clear that it was almost impossible to count the many stars above. One of them had to be mine! I had been born for this - hunting stars, seeking out heavenly bodies and eavesdropping on dark matter. It was time for my First Light and everyone who had helped me grow up was there.

Catching stars is a game of mirrors for me. I am a natural born tracker and so, after midnight when the Prince of Asturias gave the order to my information systems, I immediately started to move: I began the search for photons! The dome rotated, opened and pointed towards the area around the North Star. I only used a third of my aluminium pupil for that first look at the Universe. I used just 12 of the 36 segments that will eventually make up my primary mirror, which will be the biggest in the world when it's finished! 

The twelve mirrors lined up obediently and the engineers worked to assemble the reflections from all of them into a single gleam. There it was! The light of a star registered on my retina! My first travelling companion across the Universe was a distant star, close to the North Star and almost anonymous. It wasn't the only one I found that evening though: later I saw UGC 10923, a colourful galaxy interacting with large star-forming zones. The final surprise was still to come. I couldn't contain my emotion when those cheeky engineers in the control room wrote my name in the light of the first star...

The dream had become reality. First Light, mission accomplished!

KEEP ON GROWING

I still have a lot of growing to do. My next spurt will come with the batch of six vitreous ceramic pieces that are ready to be mounted in the mosaic of my primary mirror. Later will come OSIRIS, the first instrument invited to become part of my systems.

They tell me OSIRIS will be the best of my eyes, its sharp, speedy vision almost ten times faster than other similar instruments. Its fairing system, which is something like the chassis of a car, is ready. At the moment, OSIRIS is undergoing scientific and technical characterisation so that all of its elements can work to its full capacity. I hope that in November it will become part of me and that we will start working as a team.

In the meanwhile, the astronomers and engineers will carry on getting me ready. They will be busy day and night adjusting me and calibrating each of my parts so that they all work perfectly for my next challenge: Day One. That is when the astronomy community and I will start working together fully. The dance of the mirrors will stop being a game and start delivering state of the art science.

The countdown continues...

TEXT: Nadjejda Vicente Cabañas

TRANSLATION: Nigel Moore

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

BOLETÍN ESPECIAL DE ASTROFÍSICA EN LA PALMA

IAC PRESS RELEASES (IN SPANISH):

· 14/07/2007
http://www.iac.es/divulgacion.php?op1=16&id=456

· 12/07/2007
http://www.iac.es/divulgacion.php?op1=16&id=453

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