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Stargazing in the Canaries III - Mount Teide and a Bubble

The Milky Way above the Sea of Clouds
The Milky Way above the Sea of Clouds in La Palma

After having visited Lanzarote, Fuerteventura and La Palma, our final stop was the island of Tenerife. The plan was to spend the first two nights up on Mount Teide, where they have a hotel you can stay at 2,152 meters! I was super excited about this as well, in addition to the dark skies, this place also rich in volcanic formations to visit during the day.

Upon our arrival on the Island, I was disappointed to see that there was a complete cloud cover. Thankfully, once we reached the top of the volcano, we were above the clouds (and I was over the clouds too, metaphorically speaking) and we were ready to discover this beautiful place.

The first night we went out not too far from our accommodation and set up the telescopes. While I was waiting for my target to come up, I decided to have a go at Centaurus A - a galaxy that is most definitely not suitable for photographing from the Northern Hemisphere, but I gave it 30 minutes in any case.

Centaurus A, photographed with my small 250mm refractor
Centaurus A, photographed with my small 250mm refractor

The outcome was obviously not great, it is exactly what I expected to get with just 30 minutes with a tiny refracting telescope. But it was just enough to pique my curiosity and I am definitely looking forward to having a go at this target with a larger telescope from somewhere in the south.

When my actual target rose above the horizon, I had a successful session photographing it, there is really not that much to add here. The reason I chose the Cat's Paw Nebula is mostly the name, obviously 🐱. With my large field of view, I could include one of the nearby objects in the picture as well, so I went with NGC6357 which, short of a cute or witty name, is however beautiful, just much less exciting in my opinion!

Cat's Paw Nebula (on the left) and NGC 6357 (on the right) with a rich star field and lots of interstellar dust
Cat's Paw Nebula (on the left) and NGC 6357 (on the right) with a rich star field and lots of interstellar dust

The following day was full of activities. In the morning we visited the top of the Teide Mountain - easily the windiest place I have ever been to in my life. The cable car took us from 2,300m to 3,500m in just a few minutes - that was a beautiful ride. From the top, you could see a couple of the other islands of the Canaries. If it weren't for the extreme wind, this would probably be the perfect stargazing spot!

In the afternoon, we went on a guided visit of the Teide Observatory where the guide explained what each of the telescopes was doing, and how this international collaboration works in general. Apparently, any country can set up a telescope, but in exchange for the location, they must donate 20% of telescope time to Spain - not a bad deal for Spain, having access to and being able to do research on all these state-of-the-art instruments just for some square footage!

As it was daytime, we could observe the sun both in white light and in Hydrogen alpha in two small refracting telescopes.

They also let us enter one of the domes to see the Carlos Sánchez Telescope. This is a 1.5m diameter telescope optimized for infrared. It is currently used for research of exoplanets. That night, we also went to an organized Stargazing Experience where we observed some double stars and globular clusters. Afterwards, we learned about all the constellations that were visible at the time. I highly recommend this experience to people who don't have their own telescopes or don't yet know a lot about the night sky. In retrospect, I would have preferred to spend that time using my own equipment and getting another photo out of it...

The rest of the night I took a few Milky Way shots, but nothing out of the ordinary. The more accessible spots get a lot of traffic so it is almost impossible to get a nice picture of the foreground without at least car's headlights ruining the frame.

The Milky Way above the Desert in Tenerife
The Milky Way above the Desert in Tenerife

After the two nights spent on Mount Teide, we spent the rest of our vacation in a "rural hotel", where we also got to try out the Bubble Experience. The idea is that you get to stay inside a plastic bubble which is completely clear all around so you can see the night sky from your bed! They also include a - barely functional - telescope and a pair of toy binoculars in the bubble for impromptu stargazers. The inside of the bubble doesn't fog up as there's constant ventilation.

During my last few days of my vacation in Tenerife, I did not manage to take any more pictures due to bad weather.

If I had to compare all four islands from an astrophotographer's point of view, La Palma would win by miles. Almost guaranteed clear skies and extreme darkness - practically the dream of anyone wanting to admire the stars. I will absolutely be returning there, next time making sure it's not during some of the shortest nights of the year 🙃

My final image from my holidays - the Blue Horsehead Nebula
My final image from my holidays - the Blue Horsehead Nebula

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