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.

The observatory in bloom

Some of the telescopes at the Roque de Los Muchachos

Some of the telescopes at the Roque de Los Muchachos

The whole hillside at the Roque de Los Muchachos is in bloom. But where heather moors go purple, The peaks of La Palma go yellow with sticky broom (Adenocarpus viscosus, or codeso in Spanish) and Frech broom (Genista benehoavensis or retamón palmero in Spanish)

Gran Telescopio Canarias  with codeso in bloom

Gran Telescopio Canarias with codeso in bloom

Carolyn Porco

Carolyn Porco is head of NASA’s Cassini mission to Saturn.

As a teenager in the Bronx she saw Saturn through a friend’s telescope, and was immediately addicted to astronomy. So that’s what she did at university. After graduating, she knew she wanted to study planets. NASA was sending unmanned ships to Mars and Venus, and she wanted to be part of it, and did her Ph.D. on the dynamics of Saturn’s rings, using data from NASA’s Voyager mission. Aged 30, she joined the Voyager team in time for the encounters with Uranus in 1986 and Neptune in 1989. She did the calculations for the famous Pale Blue Dot photograph.

Then she joined the team of the Cassini–Huygens mission as leader of the Imaging Team, so she’s responsible for some amazing photos. She’s also on the team for the New Horizons mission to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt.

A Photo of the Canaries wins Tournament: Earth 2014

The Canary Islands from NASA’s Terra satellite  on June 15, 2013

The Canary Islands from NASA’s Terra satellite on June 15, 2013

Every year NASA holds a competition to chose the best photo of Earth. The Canary Islands won this year’s Tournament: Earth is again. (Last year’s winner was a photo of the submarine eruption off El Hierro.)

The Canary Islands sit in the trade winds and the Canary current, both of which come from the north east. This photo, taken by NASA’s Terra satellite on June 15, 2013, shows long shiny areas of sea stretching downwind and downstream from each island. This is because the sea is either rougher or smoother (probably smoother) on the leeward of the islands.

You can also see a long trail of cloud coming off Tenerife, looking like smoke from a cigarette. That’s caused by Mt Teide, which is 3,718-metres (12,198 ft) high.