During the last three weeks I spent 17 nights working at the telescope. 11 nights at the 1.2 meter Mercator telescope on La Palma, and 6 nights at the 0.8 meter IAC-80 telescope on Tenerife (and I had one night in between, when I did not have to work). All these nights were clear, and though some were plagued by the Calima (dust from the Sahara blown above the Canaries), I managed to keep observing all the time, except for one hour, when the seeing got so bad, that I could not do anything anymore. It will be really hard to have a better observing run ;) It is not easy to admit that there are much better time-lapse movies than the one I made last year, but the video below really shows how beautiful my workplace is…
I still think that this is the best part of being an astronomer, but of course after so many days it is good to be back in the normal day-night rhythm, and on a lower altitude (almost sea level), where there is more oxygen ;) So after saying good bye to the view from the Observatory (see below – pretty, isn’t it?), I took a taxi down (to 2000 meters lower in elevation) to La Orotava.
I am staying at the Hotel Rural Victoria, and it is perfect. I have a quite big room, free wifi, an LCD TV (on a nice wooden work desk), a huge private terrace overlooking the city and the sea (with my own cacti :D), two big beds, separate bathroom and toilet, etc. And the dinner included in the half pension has three courses with some tidbits in between! Perfect for a tired cyclist, who does not want to look for food after a long day. I hope the breakfast will be as good too! (Update: it is damn good too! I have chosen the best hotel.)
Today I did not do anything special, just assembled my bike (for the 3rd time in three weeks…) while watching the Vuelta (I went on a ‘short’ 1.5-2 hour training on 5 out of 7 afternoons while I was working here on Tenerife, so today was a rest day), walked around the city for an hour (it is really nice, a bit like La Laguna), and got some cookies and chips for later. And a big bottle of water – the most important thing… Now I have 6 days to bike around the island (mostly up and down, not really around), and I made plans for 5. We will see how much I can handle. The rides are shorter (100-130 kilometers), but with a lot of climbing, so it is not at all easy… But the scenery is amazing, so it is definitely worth the struggling ;)
I will keep you updated on the rides! (If I have energy left to blog afterwards… :D)
Ok, so back to Monday. What happened on Monday (22nd of November)? I guess just the usual lectures, as I can not remember anything special. Then on Tuesday, we had to present our poster “on the stage”, using a short PDF-presentation. Luckily I prepared the PDF already on the morning, because the afternoon turned out to be quite “unlucky” for my computer. As usual, I was listening to the lecture with my MacBook in front of me (for taking notes, following the talk, and – sometimes – checking e-mail…), and – as always – I had my drink right next to it. This was the only day, when I was drinking something else than water, as I had a full bottle of orange Gatorade left unopened from the climb on the weekend. So at a point during the afternoon session, I refilled my (wine) glass, and then while moving it back to the table, I hit the bottom of the glass to the table, which resulted in the glass flipping over and covering the full keyboard of my MacBook with ~2 dl of sticky orange juice… At this moment, everyone in the room became silent or said “uhhh :S”, then – after being frozen for one second due to the shock – I quickly turned off the computer and disconnected the power adapter, then turned the MacBook to its side, and tried to get off (blow off) the liquid stuff as fast as I could. After the monitor unexpectedly turned on and started to flicker, I also took out the battery… From this point, I could not do anything else, just let it dry, hoping that I would be able to turn it on after a while… Surprisingly, I handled the situation quite well… I thought there was no reason to freak out, as it would not solve anything anyway. I stayed calm and did not think about it at all :) So the presentation went very well on the evening.
On Wednesday we had a guided bus-tour to the Teide National Park and the Observatorio del Teide. First we drove up (with some photo-breaks) to the Residencia of the Observatory where we had small sandwiches and drinks, then we went to the Visitors’ Center to learn about the history, flora, and fauna of the area.
After a walk around in their botanic garden, we continued to the magnificent rock formations of the National Park, where we had a half hour to look around and take pictures. We took a lot :) Then we returned to the Observatory to visit the OGS (Optical Ground Station) – which has the same 1 meter Zeiss RCC telescope as the Hungarian Academy of Sciences on Piszkéstető (compare the one on Tenerife with the Hungarian) -, the THEMIS Solar Telescope, and the container of the GONG Network.
At sunset, we saw the same atmospheric phenomenon which I have already seen when I was observing (2nd picture in the linked post) with the IAC-80 in September, but now as the Sun went down at the other side of the Teide, the dark ray had a different direction. I had an intense discussion with one of the professors about the origin and nature of this phenomenon, and it took me quite a lot of time, to prove my theory. (Then on the next morning I realised that I was not completely right, but my renewed theory of “mountain shadow + anticrepuscular ray formed by the Teide” was accepted by both of us immediately.)
To close the day, we had a mind-blowing dinner halfway down from the mountain in La Esperanza. The amount of meat was unbelievable, I asked for chicken, and I got a half chicken. I mean, half of everything. It was huge. The professor from Texas told that the steak was huge even for him ;D And it was also delicious, not just a lot. We had no difficulties with falling asleep that evening… (There is also a short video about this day here.)
On Thursday, we had a computer session in the University of La Laguna (ULL), but – for some unknown reasons – we quickly managed to crash the network, which made things a bit more complicated :) Still, by the end of the 4 hour session, we – at least my group – managed to finish almost all the exercises. On the evening, we had the official closing dinner, in a fancy restaurant in the Orotava Valley, somewhere above Puerto de la Cruz. It was very nice. Friday was the last day with lectures, then on the evening we went out for a traditional dinner to a small restaurant which was run by a family. We ate several different meals (I even tasted the octopus…), drank a lot of wine, and still we only payed 8 € per person… It was unbelievable. On Saturday, we left Tenerife in 27°C, but I think it will not surprise anyone anymore, that we did not make it back to Belgium before Sunday noon. (We spent the night in a 4 star hotel next to the airport in Madrid, thanks to the Spanish air traffic controllers and payed by IBERIA). But when we arrived, than it was -1°C… Quite a different climate back in Europe…
It was a very nice winter school, I am happy that we decided to attend!
It was not my idea. I thought that this time I would finally manage to travel to the Canary Islands without winter clothes, gloves, caps, warm hiking boots, etc. But on the last week before leaving to the Winter School, I got an e-mail from Ádám, who works at the Konkoly Observatory in Budapest (Hungary), that he would really like to climb the Teide, but he needs someone to join… And of course I could not say no to such an idea :) So I even packed in my hiking sticks (the ones I bought in Andorra) along with my full hiking equipment (GPS, headlamp, etc.). This probably meant an extra 3 kilograms at least… There was only one problem at the beginning: the permit. Because you can not just walk up to the very top of Spain, you need a permit for it. As the volcano lies in a National Park, they want to protect the caldera from erosion by not letting up all the thousands of tourists, who take the cable car all the way up till 3550 meter ASL. The cable car runs from 9 AM till 4 PM, and you can apply for a permit online for these hours. Also, if you sleep in the Altavista refuge (at 3270 m ASL), then you can go and climb the peak – if you leave the restricted part before 9 AM – with a stamped document which proves your previous stay in the hut. Now, to make it complicated, we planned to make the climb during the night, but without sleeping on the mountain, so it was not clear how to proceed. I tried to get information from the National Park (via e-mail), but with no success. We had no 100% secure information on Saturday morning, less than a day before the planned ascent, so as a last idea, we went to the info point of La Laguna, where we asked the lady – who gave us the guided tour in the city an hour earlier :) – to find out what do we need to do. It turned out (after she spoke with someone and mentioned that two astrophysicists wants to climb the peak ;D), that we can go without a permit, if we leave the peak before 9 AM. We were really happy about this!
We spent the rest of the day with shopping (food and drinks for the climb), and – as I already told about it yesterday – with a scenic ride through the Anaga Mountains. Then Ádám went to sleep early (he is not crazy, I should have done the same, but you know, I am crazy :D), and I went for dinner (and had one of the best pizzas of my life in a very nice restaurant). My original plan was to sleep at least three hours, but at the end, I only managed 40 minutes… So you can imagine how painful it was to get out of the bed at 1 AM… So after a long and quiet drive to the National Park, we parked the car in the parking place at 2350 m ASL at 2:15, and started the hike at 2:30 (five hours before Sunrise), under the light of the magnificent full Moon.
It was so bright, we could have walked all the way up without headlamps. The route was very easy during the first 4.5 kilometers, meandering through volcanic ash, sand, and rock formations, and the “real thing” started after this part, somewhere at 2750 m ASL. Then the next 3.5 km brought more than 800 meter of elevation gain, on a steep, but not at all technically difficult path (no use of hands needed) through the frozen lava-flows of the Teide. The only difficulty was the less and less air to breath, so we became quite slow above 3000 meter. Luckily, we had a lot of time, so there was no reason to rush. Then there was a ~700 meter long almost flat section leading to the mountain station of the cable car at 3550 meter ASL, where the restricted path started towards the peak. Of course at this hour there was no one at the checkpoint asking for permits… The last half kilometer with more than 150 meter of elevation gain was really slow, and steep. The Moon was (still) surrounded by a full halo ring, and we started to smell the sulfur gases of the volcano. We arrived at the very top at 6:35. We were not the first ones to arrive, but far not the last ones either. And we were the only ones who started from the parking place, and not from the refuge… It was very cold on the peak (which is the highest side along the rim of the crater), somewhere around -5°C with strong winds, so it felt like -20°C…
We took cover between the rocks, but it was far from perfect. It was so cold, that I had to put on another top layer (a thermal ski underwear), but to do so, first I had to get rid of everything from my upper body except the my T-shirt… (For the best effect, I should have put on the ski thing as the very bottom layer, but getting of the T-shirts was really not an option at that moment.) Man, the 10 seconds I had to stand there like that was terrible. By the time I was finished with this operation, I really did not feel the end of my fingers (as I had to get my gloves off too, to be able to change clothes). Luckily with everything back on, the situation started to feel much more comfortable.
At this point, the dawn was already underway, coloring the sky above the eastern horizon with shades of blue, yellow, orange and red. After waiting three quarters of an hour, the Sun started to rise, casting the shadow of the mountain towards the island of La Palma.
As the Sun climbed higher on the sky, the triangular shadow became more prominent, and covered the sea between Tenerife and La Palma. The other hikers left the harsh peak as fast as they could after they all made their pictures, but we stayed much longer.
It was so beautiful, that I wish we could have stayed even longer. And – to say something positive about the freezing cold wind -, finally the Hungarian flag flew as a flag always should! It was also very interesting to see the gases coming up from the crater…
At the end, we started the descent after one hour and 15 minutes on the peak, and we left the restricted path behind 30 minutes before the deadline.
The walk down felt very long and tiring, but now – thanks to the daylight – we could at least see the surroundings too :)
The view was of course magnificent, with the whole (visible) world below us. I especially like the reflection of low clouds on the mirror of the sea…
The last kilometers seemed like an endless walk in the desert, it was hot, dry, and sand all over the place.
We arrived back to the car 9 hours and 30 minutes after we started the climb. I was so tired (after 1400 meters of elevation gain, several hours spent above 3000 meter, and basically no sleep for 30 hours), that I did not manage to stay awake while Ádám drove us back to the Hotel. Luckily he did :)
It was a wonderful climb, highly recommended! (GPS details here.)
I am not really in the mood of bloggin’ these days, but I don’t want to forget everything (and I still enjoy looking back at old posts, and I want to look back to these things later on), so I will make myself write something. It is just difficult to sit down and start writing, when you have so many other things to do. Anyway, let’s do it :) So Steven and I left Leuven at 5 AM on a rainy and cold Saturday morning (13th of November), with the hope that we would be on Tenerife already that afternoon, one day before the start of the winter school. This plan failed already before take-off, as the Spanish air-traffic controllers decided to screw with thousands of travelers, for a higher salary and better work-conditions (I guess). And only the pilot was brave enough to tell us the truth, because on the airports, the official explanation was bad weather (which was clearly not the case in Madrid). So we had to wait two hours at the gate (I had to buy a book to read – and for your information, the reading failed because I did not sleep anything on the previous night), one hour in the airplane but still on the tarmac, before we finally took off. It was granted at that point, that we would miss our connection in the Spanish capital, but what really came after we landed in Madrid, was beyond our wildest expectations.
We had to queue for more than three hours to exchange our tickets (meanwhile watching two other planes leaving to Tenerife), because there were only 3 people behind the IBERIA information desk, dealing with half of all the delayed people on the whole terminal… At the end, we got a ticket for the following morning, and we were taken to a hotel in the outskirts of Madrid… Strangely enough, the dinner was in an Asian restaurant. So on the next morning we had to get up at 6 AM, and catch the flight after a quick breakfast in the Starbucks of the airport. I do not know if only because of the delays, but our plane was an Airbus A340-600, the second biggest plane of the Airbus company (following the new A380), so I was happy :) It even had a tail-cam broadcasting live from the top of the tail ;) So at the end, we arrived to our hotel in La Laguna 37 hours after we left Leuven. Still in time for the welcome drinks. We even managed to get Belgian beers in a pub during the evening, so we knew we were safe from then on.
The school part of the XXII Canary Islands Winter School of Astrophysics was – most of the time – interesting, you can find all the presentations on-line, if you need to know more, but I will not write about this here. For me, the school was a very good opportunity to get to know a lot of young researchers and professors from the field. As we were together for two weeks, it was not a hard task. So from now on, I will cover only the social events, not the science.
On Monday evening, we visited a local wine cellar, and after a walk through the cellar and the production area, we had a dinner there. It supposed to be a wine tasting event with some food, but it turned out to be a dinner, with one red and white wine only… On Tuesday, we went to the IAC headquarters. I do not really have anything to say about that, except that the big engineering room was cool. The buffet dinner was not (but this is the only negative thing I can say about the IAC).
Wednesday was lecture-free (we had four 90 min lectures every “workday” – except Wednesdays), but we had to get up early, because we flew to La Palma to visit the Observatory there. Flying such short-distances with these small planes is like taking the bus. Our schedule was very tight, so we did not have too much time at different points, but at least we saw a lot.
We visited the following telescopes: MAGIC, GTC (finally, I made it – yes, this is a reference to the afternoon, when I overslept the visit in October), WHT, and the TNG (follow the links for videos!), plus we had lunch and coffee at the Residencia, and 15 minutes at the Roque de Los Muchachos. We had perfect weather (with cool cycling sunglasses on :D), so the road up and down was also really nice (for those who did not sleep in the bus al the time :D). Before catching our flight back, we had 20 (!) minutes to walk around Santa Cruz. Did I already mention, that we had a tight schedule? :D
Thursday and Friday was nothing special (lectures – oh, and I got a very positive referee report on my submitted paper!), then on Saturday after a guided tour around the center of La Laguna (video here) we rode through the beautiful Anaga Mountains in the Northeastern part of Tenerife (video here), and we went shopping for the next day, which I will cover in my next post soon :)
The 6th (last) night of observing with the IAC-80 did not turn out well, as in the first half of the night it was raining heavily, and when it started to clear up in the second half, then the wind speed rose (50-80 km/h) well above the safety limit (45 km/h) of the telescope, so I could not even open the dome. This way I ended up with 3 clear night out of 6, which is much worse than my typical ratio. But as staff member told me, this autumn was exceptionally crappy until now compared to what is usual at the Observatorio del Teide, so I was lucky that I could observe at least on half of my nights…
On Sunday, I got up a bit erlier (1 PM), because I wanted to use my last day for a big cycling trip. So I first had the longest decent of my life (with 0 cars overtaking me – but that is normal on the way down, so do not start freaking out about my speed please), then after reaching the sea, I turned back, and had the longest and highest climb of my “cycling career”. It was a truly epic climb. I started at 50 m above sea level (ASL) – that was the closest I could get to the water on the road -, then the climb went on almost uninterrupted for 42.2 km till I reached the highest road of Tenerife (which is a private road of the Observatory, so if you are not an astronomer, then the top is a bit lower) at 2360 m ASL. This gives an average slope of 5.6%.
Remember, this lasted for (exactly) three hours, so in Tour de France terms, this is a HC (Hors catégorie) climb – mainly because of its length and partly because of its steepness. Now the cloud layer was thin and low (between 650 and 950 meter ASL), and the weather was perfectly clear and sunny above (I used my sunscreen every day when I rode my bike), while hot and humid below. There was a part (Calle del Risco Caido) in La Oratava, where the slope was generally between 10% and 14% for 750 meters (with a maximum of 22%) – now that was a killer, I had to stop twice (and this was at 5 km into the climb at 300 m ASL in almost 100% humidity and 27°C). After that, I took only very short (1-5 min) breaks at 1000 m, 1400 m, 1700 m, and at 2000 m ASL before I reached my destination. (GPS details here.)
By the time I arrived back to the Observatory I was a bit exhausted (and covered with a surprising amount of salt), but extremely happy, because a month ago I was not even sure if I am able to do such a climb at all. This was the first time for months that I really felt tired (from physical activity and not because of working till midnight)… The one hour which I had to wait until dinner seemed really long (luckily I could skype with someone, thus time passed a bit faster). I managed to do the climb with three 0.75 litre bottles (so no use of the hydration pack which I brought with myself especially for these days…), and only an energy bar and an energy gel. So being a bit hungry afterwards was not a surprise. (I had more food with me – do not worry -, but I did not need it on the bike.)
Then on Sunday evening, packing everything in was again a struggle – I really hate it. Finally after three hours of sleep, I took the taxi to the airport where the largest plane crash took place in history (Tenerife North). But now the weather was sunny and crystal clear (amazing views along the road down from the Observatory), nothing like the foggy day when the accident happened. After a 30 minute flight (on board a Binter Canarias ATR-72) we landed on La Palma, I took the taxi (the second one, because my bike box did not fit in the first :D) up to the Observatory, and now I am here :) Good to be back! In the next two days, till my observing run starts, I will make small modifications to my article according to the comments of my co-authors.