Tenerife island is a paradise for stargazersNovember 5, 2018
The stars can be easily observed on Tenerife with the naked eye. Or through a regular binoculars. In the dark, you can simply drive up into the mountains, head for a vantage point and poke your head in the neck. But much better are special tours that offer views through a powerful night and solar telescope. The latter was built by guide Jesús Mesa Rodríguez at the observatory.
It’s early evening, wind sweeps over the heights. In sight is the volcano Teide, 3718 meters high, Spain’s highest mountain. All around the observatory, the light-dome domed buildings and towers look like an open-air sculpture park in which star architects have let off steam. The sun is actually white, says Rodríguez. Through the filters of the telescope in close-up, it appears as a fire-red ball.
A few meters away, recreational astronomers are preparing their equipment. Telescopes, laptops, cables, cameras, tripods and counterweights. A small group of English people from the Basingstoke Astronomical Society Expedition Group will turn night into day and stay awake until the morning. One week Tenerife exclusively to see stars. Without party, without drinks.
“Alcohol and night watching are not a good mix,” says Bob Trevan, 61, computer engineer. He breathes heavily, the height of 2400 meters bothers him. “I can not make it to the beach or pool at all,” says Trevan, who has carried over 100 pounds – material for his costly hobby. Equally well outfitted is Ian Piper, 46, who sells Fish ‘n’ chips back home in Crowthorne. He raves about the views of the constellation Scorpio and the Milky Way. “You can not see anything like that in southern England,” he says.
One of the top three places in the world
Tenerife is considered a worldwide top spot for astrotourism. “Together with La Palma, this is one of the three best places in the world for stargazing, next to Hawaii and the Atacama Desert in Chile,” explains Natascia Baldassarri, 44. The Italian astronomer, Rodríguez’s colleague, explains the reasons for the special feature of Tenerife on.
The isolated island location in the Atlantic. The high altitude. The low light pollution, also due to the frequent sea of clouds to the north, which prevents radiation and moisture. At the top 300 days of free view in the year. The air protection law. In summer, the visibility is around 95 percent, in spring and autumn at 80 percent and in winter at 75 percent.
Rodríguez is a so-called Starlight Guide. He leads into the construction of a night telescope, a white dome construct. Inside there is a continuous buzzing sound. The expert explains the mechanisms, but the view from here into the universe is reserved for professional researchers. Too bad.
The time for amateurs comes later, outside the observatory in El Teide National Park, when the sun goes down. “In the sky, we always look into the past,” says astronomer Baldassarri with the telescope view of the globular cluster Messier 13. What looks like a cotton ball is 25,000 light-years down to Earth.
Planets and constellations
In comparison, the planets seem close enough to touch. The reddish Mars. Jupiter, from which sometimes four moons spread symmetrically. Saturn, whose rings tremble slightly in front of the eye due to atmospheric turbulence and trigger a wow effect.
All that remains far away, as well as the Polarstern and the constellations that Baldassarri traced with a laser pointer in the sky: Big Dipper, Sagittarius, Swan, Hercules. No one should have the false expectation that you could capture skies details on the tours, like sitting in a spacecraft or clicking on picture galleries as NASA puts them on their website.
One who knows more about Tenerife than hardly any other person between earth and sky is Miquel Serra-Riquart, 52, doctor of astrophysics and head of the observatory. For astronomy this is a perfect place, for the health a getting used to.
“Because of the altitude you get headaches and respiratory problems. After two hours your skin burns. Sometimes your nose is bleeding. “And on some winter days the thermometer shows 20 degrees minus.
Astronomy is automated
Most of the time Serra-Riquart works in the geographical lowlands of the island in La Laguna, from the headquarters of the Astrophysical Institute of the Canaries, which also includes the observatory on La Palma. Although research projects are increasing, the presence of scientists at Tenerife’s observatory has decreased significantly, he explains.
The image of the stargazer who sits bodily in front of instruments in the night or in the control room in front of screens, occasionally gets a coffee from the kitchen and chats with colleagues in the lounge – this has been history for some years.
The reason is the increasing automation, explains Serra-Riquart. Meanwhile, everything can be conveniently tracked via the Internet from the office or at home. Robot telescopes are the future. “They work on their own.” Some are already spreading over the terrain, with more in the pipeline.
What is the focus of these projects? “Exploring asteroids,” says Serra-Riquart. These are “mines in space”, peppered with precious metals, water, minerals. There lies the energetic future, when the deposits on the earth are exhausted, the scientist believes.
Even the natives looked up to the sky
The history of astronomy in the Canaries is not yet clear. The thesis that the indigenous people – the Guanches – were watching the sky gained in importance only with recent studies, says astrophysicist Antonia María Varela Pérez. The 53-year-old also works at the institute in La Laguna.
She points to the Scotsman Charles Piazzi Smyth, who built the first high mountain observatory in Tenerife in 1856 – in an animal shelter, on a stone pillar. The accessories arrived on the back of mules in the area around the Teide. The Spanish newspaper “Eco del Comercio” reported at the time that Smyth spent a total of 63 nights in two places in the mountains.
Only more than a century later, from the 1960s, Tenerife gradually became a hotspot of professional astronomy. Pioneer was the mainland Spaniard Francisco Sánchez, who initiated a first international cooperation. Pérez proudly brings out in her office a pile of documents that Sánchez has left for evaluation.
Reflecting on her own story, she recalls that as a girl from the balcony of her coastal home in the island’s capital, Santa Cruz, she saw a starry sky like a picture book. That is impossible today, because of the light pollution – which she has declared the fight. One must sharpen the consciousness for the “pure sky”, a natural resource. Astrotourism on the island is the best example. If visitors want to watch the stars, they must leave the light sources and come at least 2000 meters.
The sky is alive. And how!
In Tenerife there is a high probability, but no guarantee for dream glances heavenward. Days later, the English group of observers Bob and Ian disillusioned. Although they are happy to evaluate the photo yield of last night, including Trifid and Lagoon Nebula, but now dust from the Sahara hangs in the air. The view is significantly clouded, nature unpredictable.
On the other hand, the guide Miguel Ángel Pérez Hernández does not have a recipe a few kilometers away. His small agency lives from star tourism. He communicated the adverse conditions in good time to his customers today. No one jumped off.
The rising moon prevents clear views of the Milky Way. And yet you feel in the darkness off the road in the rugged arid landscape on the foothills of the Teide captured by a special mood. The view through the telescope shows the moon, as most of us have never seen it: graylike, like cement, crater-pierced. Silent fascination.
Otherwise, the sky is alive. And how! The faint lights of satellites are recognizable without aids. Suddenly, strikingly illuminating, the ISS lights up, the manned space station disappearing just as quickly. Their speed of hell is vague, barely 30,000 kilometers per hour. Slowly, Venus says goodbye to Teide, who resembles an over-powerful silhouette. Then a shooting star scurries across the sky. Too fast to wish for something.
Tips and information on stargazing
getting there For example with Lufthansa (lufthansa.com) or with Eurowings (eurowings.com).
providers Year round tours, for example through Discover Experience (www.discoverexperience.com, 25 euros, English and Spanish) and Volcano Teide (www.volcanoteide.com; Guided Observatory, German, 21 Euro, Astronomical Tour, English and Spanish, 56 Euro included Transfer). Bring warm clothes and a windbreaker into the high altitudes, even in summer.
information desk www.webtenerife.com