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Stargazing in the Canaries II - La Roque de los Muchachos

After my initial success with the lunar eclipse, I was practically not able to photograph anything else during rest of my days on Lanzarote. Afterwards, our next stop was Fuerteventura. Once again, we picked out - an otherwise gorgeous - rural hotel for our days there, but every night seemed to be cloudy! It looked like we chose the wrong side of the island, as everytime we drove to a different area, the sky seemed clearer!


It was only on the last night that I got a little luckier with the weather and was able to shoot a few (literally, a total of 3 per channel!) photos of Omega Centauri - an object that was very low in the sky. As a bright globular cluster, I thought it would be a good target for that moonlit night.


Omega Centauri - the largest globular cluster in our galaxy
Omega Centauri - the largest globular cluster in our galaxy

Seen as how it was my lucky night, we also took a quick trip to the beach where the sand dunes of Corralejo are located. The idea was to get some Milky Way shots with the dunes in the foreground. It was a shame we could not stay very long as we had an early flight the following day! Nonetheless, it was a beautiful sight, even if the lights of nearby hotels took away from the dark sky experience quite a lot.


The Milky Way rising above the sand dunes of Fuerteventura
The Milky Way rising above the sand dunes of Fuerteventura

The following day I was ecstatic to arrive in La Palma, which I knew to be one of the best places in the world for astrophotography - no coincidence that the largest astronomical observatory of the Northern hemisphere is located here!


Most of the island was cloudy, but I kept telling myself that the clouds were low and I should be able to just drive above them.


The evening came, and we drove up to La Roque de los Muchachos, which is the highest volcanic peak of the island, home to dozens of professional telescopes conducting all kinds of research. We found a location from where we could see both the North and the South - with the starts visible all the way down to a horizon of clouds. The locals refer to this as the "sea of clouds" - and seeing how it looks, it is easy to understand why.


Roque de Los Muchachos Startrails
Startrails at La Roque de los Muchachos with the Sea of Clouds

That night I chose to image the Blue Horsehead nebula as well as some shots and time lapses of the Milky Way core as it was rising up high above the clouds. The air was very cold - we were not very well prepared for the 5-degree weather up there. But freezing was totally worth it! I had never seen such dark skies in my life, anywhere. The whole island is regulated for light pollution - e.g. planes are not allowed to fly over during the night and all street lights must be good old-fashioned sodium lights. I am convinced that the Sea of Clouds also contributed to the perfect darkness, helping avoid any stray light should make its way up to the top.


Rho Ophiuchi Cloud Complex
Rho Ophiuchi Cloud Complex

The following night we chose to go back to the exact same spot and I imaged the Rho Ophiuchi cloud complex, something that I had wanted to do for a long time! It was the object I was most excited to photograph. Unfortunately there was a technical hiccup so I ended up having to throw about half of my images.

As I did not have any type of rotator to achieve the composition I wanted, I ended up simply rotating the whole tube inside the tube rings. This would've worked perfectly, had I not forgotten to re-tighten them properly afterwards! I started imaging, and as the object raised higher in the sky, my tube started slowly slipping downwards, causing the stars in my images to leave trails!

Nonetheless, thanks to the perfectly dark skies I thought the 2 hours of photons I had collected would be enough.

On the third day, we went up to the mountain during the day to visit the observatory. Unfortunately, since Covid hit, visits to the actual complex were suspended, but in turn a very nice and interesting visitor center was opened. They had many interactive exhibits explaining the details and research results of each telescope, as well as generic astronomy-related interactive toys, posters and movies for all ages and levels. It was well worth the visit - we spent about 2.5 hours in there - and I found it amazing that entry was free of charge! Whoever is not into astronomy before visiting, will surely gain some interest after seeing this.


That night we packed up our stuff and got ready for our morning flight to the last stop of the trip - Tenerife.

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