“A Breathtaking Window on the Universe” on sale!

“A Breathtaking Window on the Universe” has arrived on La Palma, and is on sale at the following outlets: Santa Cruz de La Palma: Librería Trasera (Calle Trasera) Papiro Libros (Calle Real) Molina Artesania (Calle Real) The Best of La Palma (Calle Real) Los Llanos María Luasteida Rodríguez Cabello (The souvenir shop at the bottom of the church square) Breña Alta: Museo del Puro I hope to arrange more outlets…

December 2, 2012

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

Moving Mirrors at the Roque de los Muchachos

The big telescopes at the observatory at the Roque de Los Muchachos mostly use mirrors rather than lenses. Domestic mirrors have the aluminium behind glass to protect it, but astronomical mirrors have the aluminium on top. This gives the best image, but it also means that the aluminium slowly spoils, and has to be replaced every three years or so. This is not a simple operation. The aluminium layer is…

September 18, 2011

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

The William Herschel Telescope

The William Herschel Telescope at sunset. The William Herschel Telescope was for many years the biggest and best optical telescope in Europe (until GranTeCan opened in 2009).  The main mirror is 4.2 m across (165″, or 13′ 9″) which astronomers call “a good light bucket”. It’s rather old as world-class telescopes go, since it opened in 1987, but it still produced excellent science. In fact data from the WHT has…

August 27, 2011

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