T.H.S 2003 Field Trip to the E.N.O. La Palma


Thomas Hardye School Visit to the Isaac Newton Group of Telescopes, European Northern Observatory, La Palma 2003.

This was the second field trip the school had made to the island of La Palma to make observations with the Jacobus Kapteyn telescope, under the guidance of Javier Mendez of ING. Our allocated observing time for this trip was on the night of Monday, 21st July. We could therefore take our flight to the island on Friday, 18th July, which meant missing only the last day of the school term. One of the problems presented was however that there are no direct flights from the UK to La Palma in the summer. For the last visit in November, 2001, at least the students were able to take the direct flight with one member of staff, whilst the rest of the party travelled via Spain, with a change of airports in Tenerife. As the Jacobus Kapteyn telescope is scheduled to close, however, this would probably be our last trip to the telescope, and a determined effort was made to organise the trip. Initially I tried to book the flights to Tenerife Sur Reina airport, and then the flights to La Palma from Tenerife Nord via Binter Canarias myself. The Binter flights could not be made until much later however than the flights from the UK, and not wanting to be marooned in Tenerife, I decided to use a travel agent with connections to Iberia to book a package. We would have apart-hotel accommodation instead of a large villa this time, but the accommodation did have a large swimming pool at a time in the season when this could be a great asset, even if it did raise the cost. The cost was also raised by the connection flights this time. Our accommodation was very good, and the swimming pool was well used. The flight arrangements were not so good. We finally acquired the tickets on the day before departure. The inter-island flights were arranged for times when the local population did not want to travel in that direction. We therefore arrived at the Tenerife South airport late at night and expected to sleep on seats until being transferred to the airport in the North for the first morning flight to La Palma. There were no free seats to sleep on at Tenerife South, so initially I was quite pleased when the taxis arrived to take us to the Northern airport immediately. However, I was less pleased when they deposited our party outside an airport which did not open for another couple of hours! Having left our homes at 1p.m. Friday we finally arrived at our destination at about 10.00 a.m., Saturday. The students were tired and would be missing another nightís sleep on the observing day, Monday, and a further night on the return to the UK.

The sight of the pool made up for the journey.

During our first days on the island we visited the Balmanco caves and the volcanoes of the south, and the students had their first views of the islands of Gomero and La Hierro across the waters. Our trip up to observatory on the Monday was in glorious weather, unlike the trip in November. We walked along the rim of the Taburiente where the observatory is situated, looking at fantastic views from the 7,500 foot vantage point.

We reported to the Residencia and met Javier who took us around the William Herschel, the Isaac Newton, and the Jacobus Kapteyn telescopes before the evening meal at the Residencia, and the start of our nightís observing. The sunset which occurred whilst the observing programme was being put into the telescope was quite spectacular. The Jacobus Kapteyn telescope turns pink in the sunset.
The cooling system was filled with liquid nitrogen and the filters inserted.

Our programme of observations included spiral galaxies NGC 6674, 7013, 7217, 6632, and elliptical galaxies NGC 7457, 7332, 6548. We also imaged the Einstein Cross, PGC 69457, showing structure of the centre of this gravitationally lensed object. We also imaged Mars, which was approaching itís nearest position to earth at this time. There is dust in the atmosphere from the Sahara at this time of year, but we managed an image showing the polar caps and a storm on the red planet.

NGC 6674, barred spiral galaxy in Hercules NGC6548, elliptical galaxy in Hercules; false colour image NGC 6632, spiral galaxy in Hercules NGC 7013, spiral galaxy in Cygnus
NGC 7217, spiral galaxy in Pegasus Mars Einstein Cross

After a few hours sleep at the Residencia, we took a group photograph before heading down the mountain.
Back row: Matthew, Rob, Simon, David
Front row: Sam, Lin, Mike, Lucy
During the rest of the week we spent the time on walks, or sunbathing. View of cloud rolling over the volcano route View into the barranca

After returning to the UK, the first of the images were processed by David, and then by Alan Jefferis of the Wessex Astronomical Society. Javier also processed the Mars image, and copies of all of the raw images have been sent to Nik Szymanek, for further work. It would seem that this might be our last visit to the Jacobus Kapteyn telescope, as it is due to close. Hopefully pressure from astronomers may result it itís prolonged use for educational purposes. It would be a superb venue for training astronomers, and itís place should be on the island of La Palma, with itís superb seeing. In theory, if it is not used here, then it will cost a lot of money to return the telescope to itís country of origin, and light pollution. Many thanks to Javier Mendez for giving us the opportunity to observe on the JKT.


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