Monthly Archives: May 2011

Cycling on La Palma – Day 1

First of all, during my observing run, I rode my bike 25 times up and 25 times down between the ORM Residencia (the place where my room was and the food got served before the work nights), which – at a height of 2300 meters ASL – was a quite good warm-up (climbs of 2.7 km @ 7%) for this week’s cycling. This year, my best time uphills was a half minute better than last autumn! And on average, I was also much faster. Still, I have to face the fact that I am not a very good climber… After my last night at the telescope, I quickly packed everything, and immediately came down to Santa Cruz, to have a day of sleeping and eating (and switching back to a normal day/night rhythm).

So the first day of real holidays – meaning real cycling – was Tuesday, the 17th of May. I only wanted a relatively easy and short ride (keeping my bigger plans for the coming days in mind), so I rode to the south of the island to visit one of the youngest volcanic formations, the Volcán de San Antonio. After a short but really curvy 3rd category climb from Santa Cruz (6.53 km @ 5.4% with a maximum over 100 meters of 9.0%), the rest of the road was only hilly, with slight climb towards Fuencaliente.

The weather was not the best, I rode through low clouds and even got a bit of rain, but with temperatures around 20°C, you can not really complain about it. And anyway, I was prepared for everything ;) I even walked along the rim of the crater (after paying the 3.5 € entrance fee), but I had only my smartphone with me to take pictures with – though for blog-sized images, the quality is still OK, as you can see. It was very interesting, and the view was also great from the top. After the short, but – as I was still wearing cycling shoes – not that comfortable walk, I rode back home, so the day was over after only 67.3 km and an elevation gain of 1058 meters. On-line data from the day can be seen here. Then later that day I was just watching the Giro d’Italia (with English commentary, oh yeah!), and eating a lot to have energy the coming day. Of course I had dinner at my favorite place, the Pizzeria Piccolo, which is just on the other side of the street ;)

To be continued…

Sun pillar after sunset

Yesterday – as always – I experienced a magnificent sunset. But this time, I have seen a sun pillar after the sun submerged into the dusty and humid lower layers of the atmosphere right above the line of the horizon. It was a textbook example of sun pillars, getting even bigger (the height of the image is ~45 degrees here) and more prominent after the sun itself disappeared. Read more over the famous website of atmospheric optics here, and enjoy the picture below! (I know, it would have been nicer with my DSLR, but I have only my compact with me this time…)

When the Sahara comes over the Canaries

To cut the story short, as I really don’t have time to write endless posts, this is how the Canary Islands looked like from space on the 6th of May,

and this is what the same satellite (MODIS Aqua) saw after they got covered by sand from Africa (image from the 12th of May, credits: NASA/GSFC, MODIS Rapid Response):

The dust concentration went up from ~0.1-0.5 µgr/m3 to 36 µgr/m3. (The position of the Sun is also a bit different on the two pictures above, lowering the contrast on the bottom one, but believe me, what you see there is mostly sand from the desert.) So this means a hundred times more dust in the atmosphere! And it was really noticeable just by looking around. Everything seemed to be behind a thin layer of yellowish fog… Of course this had a very bad effect on the transparency of the sky, making the observation very difficult during the last two nights. To make things worse, the humidity was also high, and the moonlight is also getting quite disturbing as we are moving closer to full moon. Tonight the humidity is back at ~10% and the dust concentration fall down to 1/10th of its peak value, so life is a bit easier now :)

My 100th observing night

Tonight is/was my 100th night working at the telescope as an astronomer. My first one was back in Hungary as a master student on the 28th of November in 2005 at the 1 meter RCC telescope of the Konkoly Observatory. I spent a sum of 64 nights with this beautiful Zeiss instrument on Piszkéstető, unluckily on 17 of these I was only monitoring the clouds… (Luckily I really like meteorology.) Besides collecting data for my Master’s Thesis I also participated in international campaigns (like the Whole Earth Telescope project). I really enjoyed these runs, because it was the first time I was allowed to work with professional equipment, and also because the telescope is situated in the highest mountains of Hungary, and the scenery was really nice up there. The forest was colorful, in clear weather you could see the lights and hills of Budapest, or even the Tatra Mountains in Slovakia. And in winter, there was a lot of snow, or the mountaintops were just above the fog and smog layer – which is very common this time of the year in the Carpathian basin…

Then after I started my PhD in Belgium I had two runs (and now I have the third, so 30 nights so far and only 2 of these was completely unsuitable for observations) at our Institute’s 1.2 meter Mercator Telescope here on La Palma, and one run (6 nights, but 3 with bad weather – which was really unusual for that season) with the IAC-80 on Tenerife. As I am pretty much in love with these rocky and deserted mountain landscapes, I think I don’t really need to stress on how much I like to spend my time here on the Canary Islands :) I became an astronomer because I wanted to work with (these) telescopes. That’s what I really enjoy in this profession. And probably that’s what I will try to do after my PhD as a support astronomer somewhere… But who knows what future holds ;)