Night 7-11 at the Mercator Telescope

These were the last nights at the telescope, but let me just pick the most important memories from these days, because I completely lost track of time by the end of the observing run. First of all, about the weather: we had only one night, when I did not have to keep one eye on the satellite picture or the full-sky webcam of the nearby Liverpool telescope, but at least we could open the dome on every night (though the last one was again quite crappy). I am very happy that the students were here, because after three weeks in the night rhythm, I got a “bit” tired, and I really needed company, to stay in a good mood. There were obvious signs, that my biological clock stared to break down. First of all, on Thursday we had a visit to the largest single optical telescope of the world, the GRANTECAN, but I did not manage to get up at 4 PM after a very long night, so I missed it… Then some days later (on Saturday), I slept over (this way sleeping 11 hours) and missed dinner (so no warm food that day…), so I had to ride up to the telescope in the moonlight, under the Milky Way (which was – beyond any question – extremely cool). Luckily this did not result in lost observing time, as the students and the teachers were up already. (Yeah, normally I was the first up at the telescope around 7:30 PM, and I was the last to leave at 9:30 AM…) I am sure that knowing that they were around gave a false secure feeling to my subconscious, because I know if I had been alone, this would have never happened. On Friday, we visited the 2.56 meter Nordic Optical Telescope – see the video below. The size of the dome is extremely small for such an instrument (I think the 1 meter RCC telescope in Hungary has a larger dome)… And the whole building rotates, not just the dome ;)

In the second half of the night, when the humidity was again too high to continue with the observations, I held a quite long stargazing session with the “small” Dobson-telescope to the students (and the teachers also ;D). We saw the Andromeda galaxy, the Triangulum galaxy, the Orion nebula (which was really like on the pictures), Jupiter with its dark band and the shadow of Io, etc.


Then on the morning we went to watch the sunrise, and the clouds moving low across the ridge of the caldera (where I sat hundreds of meters above nothing – thanks to Lena for the picture). We spent there at least one hour, as it was truly spectacular. We could even see our own shadows on the clouds, then – while riding down to the residencia – a full rainbow circle too :)

Then Saturday night was perfectly clear, but I was so tired, that although I finally had time (as I did not have to check the clouds every 5 minutes, and the students were able to observe without my help most of the time by the end of their stay), I could not work on my paper at all… :( But at least I managed to finish processing the pictures from my spring observing run (so they will be on my flickr gallery as soon as I manage to get a proper internet connection – as there is something wrong with the web these days here…). Before sunrise, I went out to walk a bit under the perfectly dark sky filled with thousands of stars (something you do not have in Belgium), and as soon as my eyes got used to the darkness, I realised that the triangle of the zodiacal light is perfectly visible above the eastern horizon! This was the second time that I have seen it in my whole life, but this was the first time that I managed to take a proper photo of it :) (The lights in the distance are cities and villages on Tenerife!) Then on the morning, there were absolutely no clouds down above the see, so we could see the shadow of the mountain on the see itself – also for the first time. And I had the fastest downhill ride of my stay ;D (Faster than the students with the car…)


The last night was just long and tiring, with lots of high clouds, and almost no observations made. I am happy that I can switch back to the normal day-rhythm now, because I barely saw the Sun in the last three and a half weeks, and I am extremely tired now (so I really do not understand how did I manage to break my record riding up to the observatory after dinner – maybe the students passing me while waving and horning from the car helped :D).

So this is the end of my observing runs on the Canaries, and although it was much more tiring than my spring run on Mercator (hence I am much more exhausted at this point – so writing in English is not that easy anymore), I am still an observer, and I will be happy to take another observing run next spring, or as soon as I can after the winter is gone. But now I really start to miss things from Belgium; the colleagues and friends, the chocolate, proper fries (!!!), good brown beer, my studio (it is going to be so cold when I arrive home), the flat cycling route along the Dijlekanaal, just the streets and atmosphere of Leuven, and so on. So it will be good to be back. But now I will have some holidays at see level first, which I will use to rest and cycle (I do not know yet how am I going to do these two things together, but we will see). And I MUST spend some time on my paper (still the comments of the co-authors) in the next 36 hours, because I want it to be finished before I take the taxi down to Santa Cruz, to save myself from the stress… Honestly, I thought it would be finished by now, but I had much less energy in the last week than needed (and originally expected). But first of all, I have to sleep. A lot.

One thought on “Night 7-11 at the Mercator Telescope

  1. Anyu

    You miss only belgian friends and things? To be honest, I understand you. You’ve found yourself in Belgium. You seem to be a very good observer, and could be a perfect support astronomer after your PhD. But isn’t it a bit too lonely profession?

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