It’s no fluke that one of the world’s foremost professional observatories is here in Tenerife. Its location just north of the equator gives it a great view of the northern and part of the southern sky but this in itself isn’t enough reason. Key to its suitability is its climate and lack of light pollution. In fact Tenerife isn’t just a great location, it’s one of the three very best in the world according to a study by the International Astronomical Union.
The trade winds that predominate here cause a temperature inversion that traps most cloud between 600-1000m which in term traps airborne pollution and lessens the effect of light pollution from the cities and resorts on the coast below.
The high altitude of the Teide Observatory (circa 2400m) means it’s normally above the clouds where the air is clear. To determine how good it is for astronomy, the quality of the sky is measured in a number of ways. Chief amongst these is:
Seeing (or how turbulent the atmosphere is that you are trying to see through) measured in arc-seconds (the lower the better)
Sky Brightness (how dark and free from extraneous light pollution the site is) measured in sqm (the higher the better)
Lack of cloud cover (expressed as a percentage of time) the higher the better
Data gathered over several years shows that the conditions are extremely good:
Seeing is recorded at 1 arc-second or better for 80% of the time (very good) with a low of 0.2 (extremely good and beyond the capability of amateur telescopes)
Sky Brightness is recorded at circa 22sqm (very good)
Lack of cloud cover is recorded at 79%
These conditions combine to make Tenerife especially suited to astronomy and explains why it is such an important site for research.
It is however surprisingly easy for amateur astronomers to access these same conditions; the roads to the Teide National Park are good and there are many places to set up equipment, although you may have to put up with passing headlights sometimes unless you can find a quiet spot. It provides a fantastic opportunity to carry out detailed observations, see faint objects or capture images of planets and deep sky objects in greater resolution and clarity than ever before. Being a popular holiday destination only 4 to 5 hours from the UK and having year round darkness, it offers so much for the amateur astronomer looking for a beach holiday he can combine with his hobby.
Every year I come here, I am stunned by the darkness of the sky, the clarity and brightness of the stars and to be honest, until you’ve done astronomy here at 2000m+ in shorts and a t-shirt, you just haven’t lived!
The phrase “window to the universe” can be read in the marketing blurb of many web sites and Facebook pages connected with tourism and stargazing in the Canaries but where does it come from?
Contrary to the claim often made that it is an accolade granted by NASA, it is actually something much more significant. It is a term used by UNESCO and The International Astronomical Union (IAU) to describe the three very best locations in the world for astronomy and comes from a study commissioned by the IAU in 2010 and again in 2017. The three “windows to the Universe” are the observatories at Hawaii, Chile and both La Palma and Tenerife in the Canary Islands.
Excerpts from the reports:
“There are no better places on the planet from which to observe the skies…”
“The above-mentioned sites are characterised by extraordinarily good sky-quality parameters that determine exceptional windows to the Universe. These are:
Useful Time (of clear sky).
Sky background (darkness)
Atmospheric Extinction (transparency). [The term ‘extinction’ means the loss of light in the atmosphere from a directly transmitted beam. Two different mechanisms contribute to extinction: absorption and scattering.]
Seeing (for sharp images). [Astronomical ‘seeing’ refers to the blurring and twinkling of astronomical objects such as stars caused by turbulence in the Earth’s atmosphere.]”
We are now well into 2020 and looking towards the start of our new season in April when we will meet new people to go stargazing with and hopefully welcome some old friends back for another dose of Tenerife’s beautiful dark skies. It’s around now that we start thinking about the year ahead, review what we did last year and prepare for the coming season.
Our trusty computerised telescope mount came back with us to the UK and is in for a service with mount-tuning specialists Dark Frame Optics to make sure it is in tip-top condition for the new season. We’ve bought another rechargeable handwarmer for those cold nights as the last one proved so useful especially as it has a red and white light torch built in and can recharge phones as well as keeping hands toasty warm.
Our SUV was inspected and given an ITV (MOT) before we left in November and passed with flying colours, it will be serviced at the beginning of April. We’ve stocked up on the special cleaning products we need for keeping our lenses and eyepieces clean, they do get dusty from the mountain and inevitably get the odd thumbprint too and that will be the first job when we get back to Tenerife.
We’ll also be reviewing our drink and food menu and mixing that up a bit for this year. Our partnership with “deli-on-the-hill” in Puerto Santiago was very successful with many reviews commenting on the food and we’re looking forwarded to trying out more of their food this coming year. They are particularly good at working around allergies and food intolerances and are highly recommended.
We’ve added photography trips to our experiences again after trialling them for a short period last year and hope to get more people taking great shots of the Milky Way; like a lot of things it isn’t difficult once you know how but getting over that learning curve is tough unless someone gives you some hands-on experience. An absolute beginner can do it with the right instruction.
We hope to see some of you in 2020 but in the meantime, clear skies and keep looking up!
A star trail image over the island of La Gomera using a simple technique that makes it look like there’s a meteor storm going on. There was a lot of green airglow that night which adds an other worldly feel to the image. This shot appeared in Astronomy Now. If you’d like to learn to take shots like these, have a look at our photography experiences.
The Milky Way standing high and proud above the Corona Forestal with ghostly green air glow shimmering over the trees. The bright “star” is the planet Jupiter. One of my all time favourite pics of the Milky Way taken on a particularly clear night.
From March this year and one of my favourite pictures of the rising full Moon as it was being distorted by the atmosphere close to the horizon. It was spectacular to watch it change shape from an irregular, orange blob emerging from the sea to the recognisable face of our Moon. An unforgettable night.
I’ve started the long task of curating all the pictures I took in 2019 (7229 according to Lightroom!) and will post the ones I like the most over the coming weeks.
I’ll start off with this one though, not because it’s a favourite but because of the intriguing melted rock (lava bomb possibly) in the foreground. It stands on its own and is over 2m high. I tried to image it with the Milky Way but the air to the south west was full of dust from the Sahara and the Milky Way didn’t come out well. Definitely one I’d like to go back to next year when the sky is better as I think there’s an interesting composition to be captured here.
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