A Magical Perk.

Yesterday I was guide for another two telescope visits. Unusually, they were afternoon visits. First I showed a sick boy and his mother around, and then a group of British amateur astronomers. The best bit was that after the amateurs finished seeing the Herschel, they were going to visit the MAGIC telescope.

I hadn’t seen that one yet, so I tagged along.

MAGIC stands for Major Atmospheric Gamma-ray Imaging Cherenkov Telescope. Instead of one big mirror like the Herschel, it has over 1,000 mirrors 50cm square to form a compound mirror 17m (56 ft) across.

It’s not an optical telescope. Instead of observing visible light, it’s looking for gamma rays. The snag is that gamma rays don’t get through the earth’s atmosphere, so it’s actually looking for the cascade of particle in the upper atmosphere caused by the gamma rays.

MAGIC looks like a basket on its side, doesn’t it? But the whole basket weighs about 60 tons and can slew to point at any part of the sky within 20 seconds. This is important, because the bursts only last for a few minutes.

I got to go up the green platform on the left of the picture above, and then I could see myself in the huge mirror.

Posted by sheila

Sheila came to La Palma with a six month contract and has stayed 24 years so far. She used to work as a software engineer at the observatory, but now she's a writer and Starlight guide.

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