Astronomical Telescopes in La Palma

Roque de Los Muchachos Observatory

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Roque de Los Muchachos Observatory is one of the largest and most well-equipped astrophysics laboratories in the world. Nestled at the highest point of La Palma, it is in the most idyllic location it can ever have on the island.

The observatory also holds the second-best spot to gaze at the stars in the Northern Hemisphere. It also houses the largest single-aperture telescope. It is not only perfect for viewing the night sky, but also for observing solar phenomenon during the day.

Thanks to the climatic conditions and its unique physical characteristics, the Roque de Los Muchachos has one of the clearest skies on the planet. The location of the island and its climate makes the cloud act as a natural mirror, blocking light pollution from the towns beneath.

Roque de Los Muchachos Astronomical Observatory
Roque de Los Muchachos Astronomical Observatory – ©abbphoto

Savor the Views from La Palma’s Roof

During the day, visitors may soak in the sweeping views of the Caldera and the island of La Palma. Those who are lucky enough to climb to the summit on a cloudless day may also get to see the neighboring islands of Tenerife, La Gomera, and El Hierro.

When the sun has set, visitors are treated to the clearest views of the night sky. Even without the telescopes and especially when there are no clouds in sight, guests can’t help but feel as if the stars are at their fingertips. The lack of light pollution in this part of the island makes it among the best places to do astronomical research. Have a chance to see the illuminated skies up close and wish upon a billion twinkling stars. Stargazing while at the roof of the island provides unrivaled, unobstructed view like no other.

When visiting at night for some stargazing activities, it is important to wear warm clothing as it can get freezing due to the high altitude. Additionally, bringing of food and drinks are recommended as the nearest food stop is an hour’s drive away.

A Brief History

The plan and operation to put up Roque de Los Muchachos began in 1984. Back then, the only telescope in the observatory is the impressive Isaac Newton Telescope from Sussex, England. In 1985, the observatory was officially inaugurated by the Spanish royal family and six European heads of state. Four helipads were even built to make a comfortable arrival for those who were flying in.

The facility was created as a multi-national effort with representatives from Sweden, Spain, Denmark, and the United Kingdom all sharing the space. Over the years, other telescopes have been added to the site both for research and entertainment. It was not until 2007 when the massive Gran Telescopio Canarias (or the Great Telescope of the Canaries) was finally fired up, putting the observatory on the map. At present, the site houses over ten professional astronomical telescopes from all over the world.

Telescopes at the Roque de Los Muchachos Observatory

Roque de Los Muchachos is home to one of the most extensive fleets of telescopes that can be found anywhere in the world. Run by two organizations, visitors will have a fantastic time trying each instrument present in the observatory.

  • MAGIC (telescope) – 2 x 17 m gamma-ray imaging Cherenkov telescopes
  • Gran Telescopio Canarias – 10.4m reflecting telescope
  • William Herschel Telescope – 4.2m reflecting telescope
  • Telescopio Nazionale Galileo – 3.58m reflecting telescope
  • Nordic Optical Telescope – 2.56m reflecting telescope
  • Isaac Newton Telescope – 2.5m reflecting telescope
  • Liverpool Telescope – 2.0m robotic telescope (also reflecting)
  • Mercator Telescope – 1.2m reflecting telescope
  • Swedish 1-m Solar Telescope – 1.0m refracting vacuum solar telescope
  • Jacobus Kapteyn Telescope – 1.0m reflecting telescope
  • Dutch Open Telescope – 0.45m reflecting solar telescope
  • Carlsberg Meridian Telescope – 0.18m refracting telescope
  • SuperWASP – 5 wide angle cameras with 0.11m diameter lenses
  • HEGRA – 17 Cherenkov telescopes, 3m diameter now dismantled
Astronomical Telescopes in La Palma
Once in a Lifetime Opportunity to See the Stars – ©rh2010

Getting to Roque de Los Muchachos

Experienced hikers usually take the long route to the Observatory, through an intense yet remarkable hike around La Palma.

Visitors who want to skip the arduous walk may drive up to the peak on their own. The drive is not for the faint of heart and guests should expect a couple of bends and hairpin turns on the way. Even so, the stunning landscape views along the way are enough compensation. Travel time along paved roads from Santa Cruz de la Palma or Los Llanos de Aridane takes around 2 hours. Guests may also use these GPS coordinates:  28°45’25” N 17°53’33” W.

Cabs and organized tours to the Roque de Los Muchachos Observatory are also available in La Palma.

When to Visit the Observatory

Thanks to the beautiful, sunny weather in the Canaries, it is ideal to visit Roque de Los Muchachos anytime of the year. However, visitors who want to get a glimpse of the inside of the Roque de Los Muchachos Observatory will have to do a little more planning ahead of time. The observatory is only open to visitors for a limited number of days each year with the dates usually announced by the Instituto de Astrofisicias de Canarias (IAC) every May.

During the summer months of July, August, and September, it is possible to visit the observatory around 3 to 4 days after application and registration.

Entrance Fees and Permits

Applications to join guided tours to the observatory can be done via telephone, email or fax.  It is also possible to make inquiries at the administration of the Observatorio del Roque de Los Muchachos (ORM) located in Santa Cruz de La Palma.

Getting inside the observatory can be a challenge for some. Since the place is not a planetarium but an institution for research, the observatory only accepts groups of students, astronomers, and the likes.

A visit to the Roque de Los Muchachos Observatory costs €9 per person, excluding transportation costs. The comprehensive tour takes around 70 to 90 minutes. Also, please note that the tours are only available from 9:00 to 13:00 on scheduled dates.

Highlight of La Palma Visit

It is no wonder why anyone who’s ever been to Roque de Los Muchachos Observatory says that it is the highlight of their island visit. Day or night, La Palma reveals its glory through stunning lookout points on the island, one of which is Roque de Los Muchachos. During the day, the picturesque scenery of the Caldera and the town takes the visitors’ breath away. In the evening, guests feel that they are the closest they’ve ever been to the stars at the observatory. Whether guests visit for research or entertainment, they will surely find what they are looking for, and more, at this world-class mountaintop observatory.

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