Star birth

Stars being born inside a nebula

Stars being born inside the Sharpless 2-106 Nebula (S106)

This amazing picture of stars being born inside a nebula was taken by Daniel Lopez using Grantecan.

Near the centre of the picture is a dark red spot – that’s the new star which shines mostly in the infrared. The butterfly shape is a large disk of dust and gas orbiting the star. The gas near the star shines because it is ionized (like the inside of a flourescent tube) and the gas farther from the star shines with reflected light. The nebula is studded with hundreds of small, dim stars called brown dwarfs.

This nebula is about 2 light-years across and about 2000 light-years away.

The sun at different wavelenths

The sun at different wavelengths. Credit: NASA SDO NASA Goddard

Click to enlarge. Credit: NASA SDO, NASA Goddard

Light is made of electromagnetic waves, and our eyes see different wavelengths as different colours. But our eyes can’t see most wavelengths at all, which is a pity – think how different the human body looks when you see it in x-rays.

This is the sun at 13 different wavelengths.

Three years of the sun in three minutes

In the past three years NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory has had virtually unbroken coverage of the sun's rise toward solar maximum, the peak of solar activity in its regular 11-year cycle. This video shows the changes at two images a day.

MAGIC Prime Focus

The MAGIC Telescope from the prime focus tower

The MAGIC Telescope from the prime focus tower

The MAGIC telescope has the biggest telescope mirrors in the world. I’ve always wanted to get up the green tower to prime focus, where the light is focused onto the camera.
I finally got up there in July. Even better, my friend Carolin Liefke (from the Max Plank Institute) had a camera with a fisheye lens and the skill to make good use of it.

You can read more about the MAGIC here.

The MAGIC Telescope from the bottom of the prime focus tower

The MAGIC Telescope from the bottom of the prime focus tower

Shooting stars on Tuesday night

La Polvacera (Breña Baja)  basketball court, full of telescopes.

La Polvacera basketball court, full of telescopes.

Tuesday night is the best meteor shower of the year, the Perseids. Of course it should be visible all over the planet, but La Palma’s astronomical viewpoints will probably be a particularly good place to see shooting stars. Unfortunately the full moon will spoil the show quite a bit. Cielos La Palma will be in La Polvacera basketball court from 9 pm – midnight with telescopes. Toño will also be pointing out constellations and talking about their myths.

I’m sure there are other activities elsewhere on the island for the Perseids.

A Breathtaking Window on the Universe

The guidebook to the observatory on La Palma

The guidebook to the observatory on La Palma

A Breathtaking Window on the Universe: A guide to the observatory at the Roque de los Muchachos SECOND EDITION”  (Non-Fiction).

by Sheila M. Crosby

164 pages (16 more than the first edition)

On sale at:


Welcome to the Roque de Los Muchachos, where 15 telescopes from 19 nations use the best night sky in Europe to explore the cosmos. Find out what it’s like to work in this strange world above the clouds. Learn about each telescope, how they’re run, and a little of what they’ve discovered.

Sheila Crosby knows the observatory well. She worked there as an engineer for nearly 12 years, and has been a tour guide there for three, showing hundreds of tourists, journalists and students around.

This book is written for the general public rather than professional astronomers, with over 120 photos and diagrams, and a full glossary of all the technical terms for non-geeks.

The second edition has information on another telescope (the KVA-60) , more details on the observatory’s history, interviews with two astronomers, and an explanation of how we are all made of stardust, plus lots of minor updates. That’s 16 extra pages, and it’s printed on better quality paper to do full justice to the photographs.

The recommended retail price is €17, but books bought through this website will cost just 15€ + P&P.

Reviews for the first edition:

I’ve learned more about astronomy, science and astrophysics in an hour’s tour of the GranTeCan telescope than I did in 15 years of full time education. Why? Because Sheila made it all such fun.

      Her enthusiasm, sense of fun and ability to relate the most complex of scientific instruments and theories to everyday objects and situations make her tour immensely enjoyable and educational. If she had chosen a career in education rather than engineering she would have been one of those teachers or professors who mould young lives and inspire greatness.

Andrea Montgomery, Buzz Trips (


- See more at:


The GTC shutter

Work on the massive dome shutter of GTC.

Work on the massive dome shutter of GTC.

GTC has been open for five years, and the massive dome shutter has been getting some maintenance. This photo give an idea of the sheer size of the dome shutter.

Rosetta and the comet

Computer model of the Rosetta spacecraft

Computer model of Rosetta

Rosetta is a robotic spacecraft built by the European Space Agency which is due to reach comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko in August. It’s the first mission designed to both orbit and land on a comet.

The Rosetta space probe orbiter, which features 12 instruments, will orbit 67P for 17 months and is designed to complete the most detailed study of a comet ever attempted. In November 2014 the Philae robotic lander, with an additional nine instruments, will approach Churyumov–Gerasimenko slowly, then fire two harpoons into the comet to prevent the lander from bouncing off. Both the orbiter and lander will stay with the comet as it goes around the sun.

Mockup of the Philae lander

Mockup of Philae

You can’t land on a comet core without knowing its shape, so Rosetta has been observing the comet core as it approaches. It’s a weird shape, even for a comet. Some people thought that it might be a binary – two comet cores rotating each other, and touching. Actually, it’s more like a rubber duck.

This is going to be fun.

comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko

comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko

RGO Photographer of the Year Shortlist

Auroras in Kattfjordeidet, Tromsø, Norway by Ole C. Salomonsen

Creature by Ole C. Salomonsen
Auroras in Kattfjordeidet, Tromsø, Norway.

The Royal Greenwich Observatory has announced the shortlist for the Astronomy Photographer of the year. They got 2,500 entries! As you can see fromt eh photo above, the standard is amazing. Go and see them at

Summer Solstice 2014

El Verde archeological site at midsummer sunset (El Paso, La Palma, Canary Islands)

El Verde at midsummer sunset

Today is the summer solstice – the longest day of the year.

Several archeological sites on La Palma mark the solstice. El Verde, near El Paso cemetery, is a natural bowl where a natural notch in the rock sends a spotlight onto a carving at midsummer sunset. This was probably a sacred moment for the Awara.

If you’d like to see it, get to the car park at El Paso cemetery before 8 pm and follow the signpost or the (small) crowd.