One of the world's most powerful telescopes will begin spying on the universe on Friday, using its 34-foot wide mirror to search for planets similar to our own from a mountaintop on one of Spain's Canary Islands.
Perched atop a 7,800 foot peak on the Atlantic island of La Palma, the Great Canary Telescope will receive its so-called "first light" — when the telescope is pointed toward the sky and focusses on the North Star — Friday night.
"The GTC will be able to reach the weakest and most distant celestial objects of the universe," the Canary Islands Astrophysics Institute said in a statement.
"One of its aims is to find planets similar to ours in other solar systems," the institute added.
The telescope will have 36 hexagonal mirrors, of which 12 are already in place.
Once the telescope has had its first light, the remaining 24 mirrors will be placed and adjusted, and the scope will be fully functional within a year, according to the institute.
"With this (telescope) it will possible to capture the birth of new stars, to study more profoundly the characteristics of the black holes or to decipher the chemical components generated by the Big Bang," the institute said in a statement.
The telescope cost $143 million and seven years to construct. The Canary Island observatory said institutes in Mexico and the United States collaborated in the project, involving more than 1,000 people in nearly 100 companies.
Among those in La Palma for the inauguration was Brian May, lead guitarist of the legendary pop group Queen, who studied for some his doctorate in astrophysics at the Canary Island institute.
The Great Canary Telescope is among the world's largest telescopes. Others are the Southern African Large Telescope or Salt which has an 36-foot mirror and has been described the southern hemisphere's largest single optical telescope. Another one is the Hobby-Eberly on Mount Fowlkes, Texas, also has an 36-foot mirror.
The Canary institute is considered one of the most important in the world of astrophysics owing to the special geographical situation of the islands, which are off the northwest coast of Africa and have unusually transparent views of the sky.