Canopus, the sacred star.

The bright star Canopus is too far south to see from the UK, but it can be seen from La Palma from late August to April. These are exactly the months when it might rain on La Palma. The British aren’t usually fond of rain, but the Canary Islands could do with more rain not less, and four months with no rain at all must have been a serious problem…

October 2, 2012

Working on the GranTeCan dome

GranTeCan is the biggest optical telescope in the world, and it’s hard to convey the sheer size of it in a photograph.  The telescope itself weighs 485 tonnes.  You could fit an tennis court inside the dome, and the top of the dome is 41 m above the ground.  But you can’t see any of that in a photograph. Luckily for me, the engineers did some maintenance on the massive…

September 15, 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

The Inauguration of GranTeCan

Oddly enough, nobody invited me to meet the king of Spain at the official inauguration of GranTeCan (Gran Telescopio Canario or Big Canarian Telescope) so I had to watch it on the TV. I learned something new. The main mirror is accurate to 15 nanometres (a nanometre is a millionth of a millimetre). So if you scaled up the mirror to 10,400 km (and the radius of the Earth is…

July 24, 2009

GRANTECAN: The big Canarian Telescope

This is GranTeCan (Gran Telescopio Canario / Big Canarian Telescope) on the Roque de los Muchachos observatory in La Palma. It will be inaugurated on July 24th. The king and queen of Spain are coming, and there are rumours that Dr. Brian May is coming too. The telescope and its first two instruments cost €105 million: 90% of this came from Spain, 5% from Mexico, and 5% from the University…

July 15, 2009