A Visit to Tenerife’s Astro-Physics Observatory

Mon, August 29th, 2011 - By Linda

If you’ve read these Tenerife Holidays blogs, then you know that there is far more to Tenerife than just sun, sea and sangria – although all of those things add to the wonderful mix which makes life here so alluring.

Apart from a rich history, the stunning variety of landscape, an abundance of fiestas, and these days, great wine and food, Tenerife is also in the forefront of the world of space exploration. The Observatory, which overlooks Teide National Park, together with one in La Palma, is one of just three sites in the world where the heavens are studied. The other two are in Hawaii and Chile. In these three places lack of pollution (including light pollution) and other distractions make for the best viewing of the skies.

If you’ve ever been in the mountains after dark then you will understand perfectly. The night sky is a breathtaking, virtual carpet of stars and planets. The first time I saw it I found it hard to identify the few constellations, like the plough, with which I was familiar, because they were so “lost” in the millions of heavenly bodies.

Each year, at the end of June, the Canarian Astro-Physics Institute hosts an open weekend, when you can tour much of the facility, and chat with some of the experts. I’d been itching to go for a long time, but couldn’t until this year. It didn’t disappoint. I saw several of the massive telescopes which watch the cosmos, and the work of each was explained at length. It wasn’t at all geeky, though. It was easy to understand. I took the Spanish tour, but there was a translator with us. Scientists from all over the world work at the observatory, so it’s very much a multi-cultural place.

It isn’t just planets and stars which are studied; the Institute closely follows what’s happening on the sun, for instance – events like the recent solar flares which disrupted our communications briefly, and the tracking of “space junk,” thousands of pieces of debris circling earth as a result of our forays into space. Only days after my visit, the international space station was evacuated whilst a piece of such junk passed a bit too close for comfort. It was interesting that the telescope I’d seen had been tracking that.

If you’re here at the end of June I can highly recommend a visit. It takes roughly an hour to get there, whichever way you come. From  Playa de las Americas, Los Cristianos or Costa del Silencio drive through Arona and Vilaflor, and then across the National Park, turning right at El Portillo.You’ll see the gleaming, white structures of the observatory as you turn. If you are staying in the area between Los Gigantes and Costa Adeje, then ascend through Chio to the caldera and then follow the same directions. Although the north seems closer (we had splendid views of Puerto de la Cruz from the observatory grounds) the travel time is around the same, and it’s a left turn at El Portillo. Finally, from La Laguna it’s directly up through La Esperanza, you’ll spot those white buildings on your left, follow the signs, and take a look at other worlds.

Posted : Monday, August 29th, 2011 at 5:47 pm
Category : days out
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