Starlit Skies

Galaxy M51 taken with the Isaac Newton Telescope and Wide Field Camera by Simon Driver
September 12, 2014

  There’s a really simple reason why the Royal Greenwich Observatory moved their telescopes here. It’s one of the three best places in the world for astronomy. The observatory was founded in 1675 by Charles II of England – hence the “royal” for £520 (£20 over budget!). It was the first purpose-built scientific research facility in Britain. At the time, Greenwich was a great place to build it – away…


MAGIC Prime Focus

The MAGIC Telescope
August 30, 2014

  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…


Shooting stars on Tuesday night

La Polvacera basketball court, full of telescopes. Breña Baja
August 11, 2014

  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…


The GTC shutter

GTC Shutter
July 30, 2014

  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.


SuperWASP, the Planet-Hunter

Superwasp open for business, Roque de Los Muchachos
April 4, 2014

Most of the telescopes at the observatory here look spectacular even from the outside. SuperWASP looks like a big garden shed. It’s the white thing at bottom left. Even when it opens up, it still doesn’t look like a professional telescope. To me, it looks more like a small missile launcher. The equipment isn’t that spectacular either. As modern telescopes go, it was built for peanuts. It has eight cameras,…


A Supernova near Ursa Major

January 30, 2014

  A new supernova has been spotted just 12 light years away in M 82, the Cigar galaxy, which is between Ursa Major (the Great Bear or Big Dipper) and Ursa Minor. It’s a type 1a supernova, which is what happens when a white dwarf sucks gas from a companion red giant, until the white dwarf reaches 1.4 solar masses (the Chandrasekhar mass) when the core becomes hot enough to…