Visiting the Observatory

GranTeCan, the huge new Spanish telescope La Palma is home to one of the three most important astronomical observatories in the world. (The other two are Hawaii and the Atacama desert in Chile.) The observatory sits at the top of the island, at the Roque de los Muchachos. It’s a fascinating place to visit, but it’s not normally open to tourists – they’re too busy doing science. You can visit…

June 21, 2008

Starlit Skies

May 31, 2008

Galaxy M51 taken with the Isaac Newton Telescope and Wide Field Camera by Simon Driver.   There’s a really simple reason why the Royal Greenwich Observatory moved their telescopes here. It’s one of the three best places in the world for astronomy. The observatory was founded in 1675 by Charles II of England – hence the “royal” for £520 (£20 over budget!). It was the first purpose-built scientific research facility…


Tour Guiding again

May 9, 2008

This morning I took a party of kids around the Herschel Telescope. It was the first time for about 6 months, so I felt rusty, but it went fairly well. It really helped that the tech staff moved the dome and telescope for us. The bad part was that I’d forgotten how cold the wind can be up there, and I wasn’t dressed for it at all.


SuperWASP, the Planet-Hunter

Most of the telescopes at the observatory here look spectacular even from the outside. SuperWASP looks like a big garden shed. It’s the white thing at bottom left. Even when it opens up, it still doesn’t look like a professional telescope. To me, it looks more like a small missile launcher. The equipment isn’t that spectacular either. As modern telescopes go, it was built for peanuts. It has eight cameras,…

April 5, 2008

The MAGIC telescope

This is the MAGIC telescope (Major Atmospheric Gamma-ray Imaging Cherenkov Telescope). It’s perhaps the most exotic telescope at the observatory at the Roque de los Muchachos. It’s not an optical telescope. Instead of observing visible light, it’s looking for gamma rays. Visible light is made up of different wavelengths, which give the different colours from red to violet. Wavelengths which are just a bit too short to see form ultra-violet…

February 19, 2008

The Observatory

Gran Telescopio Canarias, or GTC, the biggest optical telescope in the world, Roque de Los Muchachos observatory, La Palma
February 10, 2008

  Twinkling stars are pretty, but astronomers would much rather they didn’t. The twinkle is caused by movement in the air above you (the same as a mirage on very hot days) and it stops the astronomers getting a clear view. The Hubble Telescope gets such wonderfully clear images because it’s out of the atmosphere altogether. But there’s only one Hubble, and it cost a fortune. So they build ground-based…