The Swedish Solar Telescope

Two of the fourteen telescopes at the Roque de los Muchachos observatory are solar telescopes — highly specialised to observe our own sun. This is the Swedish Solar Telescope, which was one of the first telescopes built on the Roque. It’s currently the best solar telescope in the world since they added the new adaptive optics in 2005. (Adaptive optics compensate for air turbulence.) It can resolve details of the…

July 26, 2011

STARMUS on La Palma

STARMUS is a unique scientific, artistic and musical event taking place mostly in Tenerife this week, with a truly stellar line-up of speakers and performers. I wanted to go, but I couldn’t afford the time or the money. I say “mostly in Tenerife” because on Thursday Jack Szostak, Brian May, Richard Dawkins, Kip Thorne, George Smoot, Jill Tarter, Alexei Leonov and Neil Armstrong are coming to the Roque de los…

June 22, 2011

Archaeology at the Roque de los Muchachos

For centuries, goatherds have brought their flocks to the Roque de los Muchachos, the highest point on the island of La Palma. As the lower pastures dried out in summer, they moved to fresh pastures on higher ground. These days, farmers can drive home for the night, but of course that wasn’t the case 50 years ago, much less 500 years ago. They came up some time in June, and…

April 7, 2011

Snow at the Roque de los Muchachos

The Canary Islands are known as the land of eternal spring, but that’s not quite true at 2,396 metres (7,861 ft). Down at sea-level, it’s been raining. Up on the mountain, it’s been snowing. Yesterday the road was only suitable for 4-wheel-drive vehicles, but I gather the road is open again. If you’re on La Palma, this is your chance to make a snowman. But drive carefully, and once you…

February 11, 2011

Visiting the Observatory at the Roque de los Muchachos, 2010

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. However, the IAC who run the site are organising…

June 17, 2010