Roque de Los Muchachos Observatory
AT A SPECTACULAR location on the
remote island of La Palma, to the west of Tenerife in the Canary Islands,
is to be found the Roque de Los Muchachos Observatory of the Instituto
de Astrofísica de Canarias. This international collection of telescopes
is situated over 2,400 m above sea-level, near the highest of the peaks
surrounding the Caldera de Taburiente - an extinct volcano that is now
a national park. The observatory is dedicated to astronomical observations,
and the Isaac Newton Group of Telescopes (ING) is the largest organisation
working at the site.
The observatory covers an area
of about 2 sq km and is reached by a winding 40 km mountain road from the
town of Santa Cruz de La Palma. The site was chosen after an extensive
search for a location with clear, dark skies all
the year round. All tests
proved that the Roque is one of the best astronomical sites in the world.
The remoteness of the island and its lack of urban development ensure that
the night sky at the observatory is free from artificial light pollution.
The continued quality of the night is protected by law. The mountain-top
site has a remarkably stable atmosphere, owing to the local topography.
The mountain has a smooth convex contour facing the prevailing northerly
wind and the air-flow is comparatively undisturbed, allowing sharp and
stable images of the night sky. The site is clear of cloud for 90 per cent
of the time in the summer months.
The observatory was established under
a series of international agreements in 1979, and was inaugurated in 1985. The observatory is operated under the auspices of the local astronomical
organisation, the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias, which also
runs the Teide Observatory on Tenerife.