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By Mark Daniels
Ok so i and my wife have been travelling to the canaries in the winter for a few years. This coming January we are looking at la palma.
I will be taking a small travel scope for the evenings a sw 50 ed and small tripod also some 10x50 binos
I would like some guidance from those who have been before. Things like a nice hotel in a not to built up area where we can walk of an evening drink some wine and look up to the stars.
Also iwould lile to visit the observatory and from what i can gather need to arrange independently so any info on this would be good. Also are the stargazing evenings on offer any good
Any info on must see tours or nice resturants etc are very welcome as this is a holiday so stargazing is only part of the reason to go.
Thinking south or west of island but opento all suggestions ans experiences
We were lucky enough to spend two weeks over Xmas and New Year on La Palma with the family. It was my first visit to the island and loved the place. First week we stayed at the Northwest (Puntagorda), that coincided with full moon, so did not do much imaging wise. However, a very memorable moment was when stepping outside between the main curse and dessert of Xmas eve dinner and within 5 seconds of looking up, I saw a large fireball meteor sweeping accross the sky and breaking up into several pieces.
Second week we stayed about 10mins drive from Santa Cruz, so was worried about light pollution from the capital, but the first night it become obvious that the sky was still one of the best I've ever seen. The small light pollution is in the form of sodium lights, so can be dealt with by filters (apart from some flashing LED xmas lights around).
The equipment I took was a Fuji X-T1, modded Canon 6D, Samyang 135mm and 35mm lenses, and Fornax lightrack II. Unfortunately, at the end I couldn't use the Canon as I found out there that its remote release connector is different, I use a Canon compatible intervallometer for the Fuji, and just assumed it was the same for the 6D. At home I've been using the 6D with the laptop, which I did not take with me to minimise the amount of kit. Learnt the hard way that everything needs to be tested before the trip and assume nothing. Anyway, I was enjoying using the X-T1 / 135mm combo on the Fornax, it was very quick to set up and worked very well. Fast lens meant that max exposure I needed was 2mins, which the fornax coped with easily.
We visited the GTC and was hoping to see one of the other telescopes, but I've messed up the booking and bought tickets for the GTC twice, so that will have to be another time.
Also drove up to the observatories in the evening and was hoping to do some imaging, I unpacked the equipment, but was so cold with strong winds (at some point I had 3 jackets on) that I basically bailed and just did some very wide field shots. The fun bit was when we got too cold and was ready to go down, the car wouldn't start. ? It was around 10pm, nobody around, no moon, so pitch dark. I'm still not sure why the car battery went flat, I run the Fornax off the cigarette lighter socket, but its power consumption could not be the reason. To have voltage in the cigarette lighter, the key had to be turned to ignition on, so I guess in that state something was taking current in the car, we did not have any interior / exterior lights on. We thought we might have to sleep in the car, when after about 20mins I saw a car driving down, jumped in front to ask for help, and the chinese couple inside very kindly helped to push the car to jump start it. This was a major struggle as the parking platform was lower than the road, so the car had to be pushed up the ramp. When the car eventually started I was ready to hug those friendly people but they were in a hurry...
The sunset and the views of the milky way were amazing up there, still I've decided after this adventure that I rather put up with the little light pullution I have on the balkony of the nice warm house and my bed nearby.
So, overall a few mishaps, but it just means that I definitely have to go back again in the summer, timed so that it coincides with new moon.
Anyway below are some of the quickly processed images I took, also have some 46P data but haven't managed to process that to give anything decent yet. All processed in Astroart / Gimp, however my processing skills are not very advanced, still need to learn about layers, masking, etc.
This August I was lucky enough to go back to La Palma with the family for a couple of weeks. Perhaps more importantly I was able to take my cameras, and this time I hired a telescope over there rather than look at the skies wishing I had my scope with me.
Same as last time we were unlucky with the weather, by La Palma standards, and several nights were lost to very thick Calima - dust laden winds blowing from the Sahara . These clog up the sky and raise the temperature quite drastically. It also severely hampered my ‘schedule’ of timelapses I wanted to get but living in the UK I can expect perhaps one night in two weeks to be clear. I can’t complain at the loss of 4-5 nights out of two weeks! Although it was frustrating to miss the Perseids again - they were on the one night it actually rained!!
La Palma, perhaps surprisingly for one of the best locations for astronomy in the world, is a very cloudy island. When conditions are ‘normal’ it is usual for the inhabited parts of the island at less than 3000 ft to be frequently cloudy at night time. The cloud comes and goes but is often there and can be seen in several of my timelapses. There is an inversion later at approximately 3000ft though above which it is as clear as it’s cloudy below. So, if you can get high enough you can get above the clouds and almost guarantee starry skies. But, the same situations that give those clouds give us cloud waterfalls over the Cumbre Vieja (the ridge of hills linking the north and south of the island) and some amazing fog. I could go back to La Palma just to do timelapses of the fog/cloud!
If you can get high enough it’s truly worth it. Up at altitude the skies are very steady and clear. I could see detail and texture in the Milky Way right through from beneath Scorpius/Sagittarius, right overhead and down into Cassiopeia and Perseus. The Milky Way was visible right down to the horizon and the stars were pinpoint spots of light - no twinkling, not even low on the horizon! There are various spots at the side of the road you can set up on - although be prepared for a number of cars to drive past with their lights full on! I was quite surprised at the number of cars - several of my timelapses show the observatories lit up by cars with their lights on full. Of course, arguably I was part of the problem… but then I was happy to drive around on sidelights (once I’d sorted out turning off the cars internal illumination!)
I met and spoke with a surprising number of people, mostly Spanish and German. But it was frustrating whilst taking a timelapse to have people drive up and take pictures of themselves pointing a torch at the Milky Way, right in my field of view. Some of my timelapses show this despite my best efforts.
I was able to take Tom up with me a couple of times (even Kate came up too one night!). I quite like being on my own at night but at altitude and with the humidity at less than 5% and the walking around often being on rocky broken volcanic surfaces it was good to have company. Of course, Tom being 10 he can see way better than me, something he was happy to point out regularly!
I've put together a timelapse which I’ve called the Road to the Roque. Whether you approach the Roque from the east from Santa Cruz de la Palma or from the north west (Hoya Grande) it’s at the top of a long very switchbacked road. Driving up and down 7-8 times over the two weeks burned out the hire cars brakes - thank goodness for power steering! You can’t get to the top without going up the road - the views along the way were stunning so any timelapse I put together I wanted to include that part of the journey! The car brakes really were burned out. On the last day driving back to the airport they were noisy enough I felt it best to leave the car in second gear for the last 13km (downhill)..
I hired a telescope for about a week out there from an outfit that turned out to be just 10 minutes up the road ( http://athos.org ) A German setup (the guy I spoke to, Jan, spoke perfect English!) which has to be the kind of place I’d happily just move to (just as soon as that lottery win comes in). They have a place with several small houses for accommodation, observing platforms, observatories, plenty of kit and are in a truly dark spot. Absolute Paradise! They kindly gave me a guided tour (they took care I didn’t wake up some of the astronomers that had been up all night) but the place was great. I have started siphoning off money from my joint account… (luckily Kate doesn’t go on SGL!).
I hired an Evolution 6 with Starsense. My rationale was to have something I could carry around easily and for it to be smaller than my main scope at home and something I haven’t used before. It worked out perfectly, the little 6 inch was giving me much better views than my 10” Newt does a home and many an hour was spent looking at Mars, Saturn, Jupiter and Venus and looking at objects in the lower reaches of the Milky Way that we can’t normally see from the UK! The starsense was cool - level, aim north, hit a button… and it just worked!
I could blether on for hours but won’t - here’s a link to the time-lapse I’ve done. Its missing some stuff I wanted to get but some stuff worked better than I’d expected so I can’t complain. A couple of the timelapses were done in strong dusty winds, in one of them I spent an hour hunched over the camera on it’s tripod holding a large black cloth as a shield for me and the camera from virtually gale force winds. Amazingly that one worked well although my shoulders weren’t so happy! Getting lost on the path on the way back down to the car was a bit hairy (the caldera was 20 ft to my right) but a bit of judicious Maps usage on my phone (most of the island provides at least 3G) enabled me to figure out that the all but invisible path I needed was just a few feet back from where I was…
Finally, all else aside, I can’t overstate what having dark skies does. I live in a dark part of Devon and am grateful for that but the skies there were obscenely dark. The little villa we were staying in near Puntagorda on the north west of the island - you could walk literally straight out of the lit kitchen onto a patio and bang, there was the Milky Way, better than we even see it here, visible clearly in completely un dark adapted eyes… five minutes later and it’s enough to make you think… I could work from here you know, no need to go back to the UK….
I’ve started blethering again. Here’s the timelapse, I hope you enjoy it!
A 25 second exposure from a time-lapse taken over the cloud filled Caldera de Taburiente in La Palma in the Canary Islands. Mars is the red object to the left of the Milky Way. Saturn is in there too but is lost amongst the milky way. The bright lights hidden under the clouds are from the towns of Los Llanos and Tazacorte only about 7-8 miles away as the crow flies but about 90 minutes away by car! 25 sec at f/1.8, 14mm Sigma lens, ISO 3200, Canon 6D. The scene was illuminated by a crescent moon beyond the right of the image.