Hacienda Fina – A Villa in North West La Palma

Hacienda is a group of 5 villas on the North West of the island of La Palma in the Canaries. At 4,333ft owned by Thomas Frietag. At this height you are sandwiched between two inversion layers meaning that a large number of nights tend to be clear at around 240 per year. Having just completed our first trip to one of the villas I can attest to all the nights we stayed being clear and the seeing excellent. Given this is the beginning of November it bodes well for the rest off the year. 

Calima. As always with the Canary islands you do have a risk of calima, Sahara sand high in the atmosphere, when you travel to all the islands. The dust tends to be more prevalent in the summer months when you are afforded less clouds, whilst during the winter there is much less chance of calima but an increased chance of cloud. On arrival for myself and my society friend Alan Lorrain the calima was slightly present when we arrived, however it only interfered with wide field stars cape astrophotography, not at all for visual and hardly at all for deep sky astrophotography. It cleared by night 4 on this particular trip, so we were happy with this as a result.

Location is everything and needs to be balanced with cost, suitability for all astronomers and other activities that one might want to partake in whilst there. This expedition was made up of two astronomers and we both have a passion fo hiking along with astrophotography and visual. We had heard that the North West of the island was a good compromise for not driving up and down the mountain each night and observing by the roadside, but still being clear enough to perform astronomy.  Whilst the nights were indeed clear, the days tended to be clouded and foggy where the cloud would form and come up and engulf the finca. That said, with clockwork precision the cloud would descend to a low altitude by 6:30pm allowing a full view of the night sky.

Lighting pollution is an essential factor in any trip and Christian who looked after us during our stay was very accommodating. Whilst there were lights around the pool, along the path and by the water fountain, Christian kindly changed the timer to turn these off for us at 9pm each night. This single act plunged us into total darkness each evening allowing light free access to the heavens above. 

So what was the accommodation like? Well we stayed in the villa El Sitio. Built into the rock face itself this beautifully sculpted villa was a balance of function and art. Individual artwork adorned the walls along with a wide us of copper through the building creating a warm homely feeling especially at sunset. The tranquility of the site and accommodation would be hard to match if you enjoy quiet and seclusion. the functionality of the accommodation provided a double bed in the bedroom and a sofa bed in the lounge/kitchen area which suited us fine. There were showers inside and out, a sauna (although we did not use it) lovely kitchen, dinning area inside and dinning area outside.

Observing areas were many at this property. I observed from outside the main bedroom for three evenings, three times from by the pool area and a single time from the top of the mountain and the new but unfinished visitors centre. Each location has its own merits in terms of horizon, humidity or access. Inn terms of humidity there was a lot of dew most evenings at this altitude, something that is a tradeoff with driving the 25 minutes up the mountain to the visitors centre.

Overall it has to be said this was a lovely astronomy holiday intersecting with hiking. We both enjoyed our 3-6 hours observing but also waking early enough to take in the refreshing walks on offer. After observing at the side of the road all night at the top of La Palma and Tenerife, observing from the MONS telescope and travelling down to the H!0 near both Santa Cruz in La Palma and Puerto de la Cruz in Tenerife, this has to be the best compromise of them all and I would thoroughly recommend it.

Hacienda Website Link

https://translate.google.com/translate?sl=auto&tl=en&js=y&prev=_t&hl=en&ie=UTF-8&u=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.hacienda-lapalma.com%2Fwillkommen.html&edit-text=&act=url

Home and Away Booking site new booked through

https://www.homeaway.co.uk/p2383725?uni_id=2514299

Athos Star Camp

Situated in Las Tricias, in the region of Garafia on the western side of La Palma is the Athos Star camp. Occupying the site of a former botanical gardens the 45,000 square metre site has now been converted to a magnet for astronomers from across Europe.

As Dave and I were already staying at a villa nearby we contacted Kai, the owner, to arrange a visit to the camp to check out the location and the facilities.

Dave had previously marked the camp on Google Maps but when we were told to turn down a little track off the LP1 we declined, remaining on the main road for another couple of kilometres (and loads of bends) we reached Las Tricias village and turned up an equally tiny track and proceeded to wind our way back up the hillside, eventually arriving at the gate of the facility.

Kai greeted us and invited us into the Office, where you start to get an idea of the kit that he has available, filter wheels, narrow band filters, cameras and of course loads of scopes and mounts! After a quick chat we joined him on a tour of the site.

First light at the site was only in 2016. This followed a four year search to find somewhere suitable and the area seems to have its own micro climate, with it is claimed, about 300 clear nights a year, due to it being between the two inversion layers of cloud at 900 metres.

 

The site has five separate villas, with accompanying observing space, and four of these are round the central area whose hub is the ‘Orangery’ which is a library/meeting area where guests can mingle both during the day and also between observing sessions at night. One villa is completely self-contained, and could sleep 3 but only has one observation pad. The other four villas have separate bathrooms but share the cooking facilities in the Orangery.

The Villa rooms are (apart from one) twin occupancy, and the price quoted is for the room; i.e. could be divided in two if shared. Cost in the region of Euros ~400 for 5 nights plus extra nights at Euro ~70.

From the astronomy side each observing pad has a concrete base with surrounding railing, which feature innovative tables (with power sockets) that can be moved to different locations around the rail. This enables the use of a laptop for telescope control or a red light for drawing.

The list of equipment for hire is extensive, with a capital E! There is no obligation to hire and the choice for each individual will be based on whether they want to bring their own kit out from the UK with which they are familiar or to rent for example an EQ6 mount for 6 nights, thus removing the need to have an extra case on the plane and the cost that that involves.

So on a preliminary basis the site offers self-catering facilities at a reasonable cost without the need to cart heavy items out from home.

However Athos offers much much more. If you have dreamed of using a 25” Dob, there’s one for hire. Narrow band filters, CCD cameras, Dobs, SCTs and a range of refractors are all available.

There is also a fully fitted observatory equipped with a C11 and a 7” refactor, dual mounted and operated from the control room below. Yes it will set you back Euros 290 per night, but for one night split 3 ways maybe affordable as a treat?

Availability around new Moon is of course a little difficult necessitating booking into later 2019 or even into 2020 in order to get your chosen time and all 5 villas available.

In conclusion superb facilities well worthy of consideration for amateur astronomers looking for clear skies, equipment hire and the chance to go individually or as a group.

Viewing Report 8th November 2018 – La Palma

Viewing time period – 23:32 – 02:05

With my trusty Night Sky Observers Guide (NSOG) Vol 1 at hand and some planning done during the day I head out for what appears to be yet another clear night.  At 4,333 ft in the Hacienda villa complex (28°46’12.6″N 17°55’57.6″W – 28.770177, -17.932679) this week has been cloudy during the day (you are in the cloud) but clear every single night. We have had slight Calima when we arrived however for the past 2 nights the dust has been blown away by the westerly wind.  The above image is from the previous night and as you can see the Calima was just off the North of the island.

A few comments on the NSOG before I continue. I mentioned previously I purchased from the Web Society, for which I am truly grateful. I like to think of the book as and advanced version of Turn Left at Orion but for the more serious astronomer. As an astronomer who likes both astrophotography and visual the book can be used for either. In the same way the Deep-Sky Observer magazine from the Webb Deep-Sky Society which I have now read 3 issues of has also inspired me to look for new objects, discover new catalogues and record my observations for myself and others.

So what did I look at tonight ?

NGC 1662 – This open cluster in Orion can be found at the top of his shield. I used the double star Pi1 Orionis to locate the right area and then looked through the 100mm Altair binos. A small scattering of stars and the more prominent making the cluster look like a capital E. Very pretty and an easy find for my first object this evening.

Delta Orionis – Still observing in Orion from the other night I returned to take another look at this variable double star also known as Mintaka. Recalling I had used yesterday during some star hoping and being part of the open cluster Cr 7, the primary component is about Mag +2 and the smaller secondary Mag +6.

Enif – After another read of Sky and Telescope this month they had a writeup of double stars which in the past have been a passing interest of mine. Since I had these excellent binoculars on their APM tripod, which by the way is superbly designed, I thought taking in some of these objects would be fun. Enif, also known as Epsilon Pegasi is a 2nd magnitude star representing the front of the horses head. Epsilon peg is also called the pendulum star, for the simple reason if you look at it through a pair of binos or through a small telescope and then move it up and down with the double being on the left and right the brighter component moves first and then the dimmer component has a lag and finally races to catch up. A simple example of how the brain works but moving the binos in my case, up and down multiple stars makes the stars into a pendulum. Very nice indeed.

61 CYC – At the midnight hour I went in search of the piazza’s flying star, a fast moving binary system sweeping across the heavens at a rate of 5″ per year. That may not seem a lot until you realise that all the other stars in the vicinity don’t move visibly to us but this one does. The double red Mag +5 and +6 pair were easily seen in the binos and were a delightful sight indeed.

NGC 6833 – @00:16  I observed this open cluster in Cygnus, a large tightly packed cluster of star, however slightly dim to my eyes.

NGC 6826 – This ‘blinking’ planetary nebula in Cygnus is really good to look at through any size scope. Whilst in my giant binos it was not terribly large and extremely dim, it did indeed blink when you look at it then look away.

NGC 7293 – The Helix Nebula in Aquarius is simply massive! With an apparent size of nearly 15′ x 12′ (arcmins) I moved the binos just to the bottom left of Mars (clearly at the moment) and there is was large and bright in the FoV. Myself and Alan then viewed it through the 6” Dob and it filled the FoV however was very  dim but definitely visible with direct vision (DV)

Neptune – By 00:46 it was time to hunt down the large outer gas planet Neptune. Alan and I observed this through both the  6” and the binos, again it was brighter in the 4″ binos than the 6″ reflector but clearly in the binos had a blue tinge to it.

Algol – Now it was 01:00 and I moved to Perseus to measure the magnitude of Algol. This star dims from +2.1 to +3.4 every 2 days, 20 hours and 49 mins for a 10 hour long partial eclipse. On our first night I had measured the stars magnitude by comparing against gamma Andromeda (Almach) and as expected both are indeed +2.1. Tonight I compared to Epsilon Persei (Adid Australis) which is a magnitude +2.9 star and then compared back to Almach and you could notice the difference, Algol was very much the same magnitude as Adid Australis tonight.

NGC 2175 – This open cluster in Orion shows a lightly scattered cluster which is very obvious to see and has a straight set of 3 stars running N-S  towards the top of the FoV.

NGC 2169  – Another open cluster in Orion, this time a smaller cluster with a little triangle of stars and 3 stars above on diagonal. The star 70 Orionis is very bright down in the bottom left of the FoV with 67 Orionis in the top left.

NGC 2244 – Nearing the end of night for me as we are going trekking each day on the mountain. So at 01:07 I took a look at the open cluster in the Rosette emission nebula. It appeared very bright in the field of view and is  also a very pretty cluster. There was no emission nebular seen, again not surprising with 4″ binos.

NGC 2264 – This is the Christmas Tree Cluster. Very easy to find at the horn of Monocerous and embedded in the centre of it is the naked eye star 15 Monocerotis which makes it easier to find.

(Image by Alan Lorrain)

Catching Comet 38P- 6 Nov 03.53 UT

So we all know that comets are fickle things, promising a lot and delivering very little. So it was with a degree of scepticism that I thought that I would give Comet 38P/Stephan-Oterma a go.

The article in Astronomy Now had explained that this periodic comet was making its first return for 38 years, arriving at perihelion on the 10th November with predicted magnitudes of between 9 and 10.

Dave and I had looked for it with his massive bins, and whilst Dave was able to say that he could see it with averted vision, with honesty I couldn’t see it at all, and that was before a glass of vino!

So as the mount was successfully aligned I thought that I would have a go at getting an image.

Sky Safari indicated that it would be near to the star Wasat and 56 Gem. I had been using the 200 mm lens with the Canon 650 (mod) to image this evening at 800 iso, but thought that bearing in mind that the limiting magnitude for Dave’s binos was 11 that I was unlikely to get much at 800 iso.

First try was centred on Wasat using 6400 iso. Accepting that it would be really noisy I thought that at least I would get something. There followed a series of shots, none of which were really definitive. I then tried creating a ‘user object’ on the handset, based on the Sky Safari coordinates. This again was inconclusive so with heavy heart I thought that 38P and given me the slip.

It was therefore even more pleasing when examining the images on the computer the following morning to find a faint object on the images. Nothing spectacular, and Damian Peach will have no concerns about the completion, but there it was probably 10th magnitude a tiny fuzzy ball.

First comet image for quite a time and pleasing to have seen this one as it flies into the Sun even if it was not a grand spectacle.

A good end to a hugely enjoyable evening under the La Palma stars.

Viewing Report 4th November 2018 – La Palma

Viewing time period – 18:31 – 22:06

Since the weather at 4,335 ft was cloudy with some precipitation Alan and I (Dave Shave-Wall) decided to take a trip up the mountain. The journey took around 30mins from our villa and we arrived at the new visitor centre first due to the route we took up the mountain. The centre is not finished yet even though it has been some 2.5 years being built. It’s an impressive set of buildings and has what seems to be at first glance 5 astrophotography pads with power.

    

We then continued the short distance to the observatories and noticed the new member of the Magic family Magic III. This is a further telescope aimed at recording Cherenkov radiation.

A little drive further and we arrived at Roque de los Muchachos. We took the obligatory sunset images as well as photos of the southern part of the island buried under blankets of cloud making several high points look like islands amidst the condensed water.

By now we were frozen due to the high winds that always occur at the very top, so we descended, stopping briefly at the GTC for more photos and then on back to the unfinished visitors centre where we would setup for the evening.

At 19:30 I took a look at Mercury through the 100mm giant Altair binoculars as it set within the blood red sky. Alan noted that the other point of light nearby and setting was in fact Antares, of course this time of year it sets early, so very different from our July trip this year when it was very much higher in the sky most of the night. Alan then moved the binos to Saturn which showed the ringed planets very crips and clearly with Titan at 11 o’clock and set within a star studded field.

Next, whilst Alan was imaging the top of the Teapot, I set about drawing M7. This was my first ever drawing, so choosing an open cluster was fairly straightforward. It took me a little under 30mins, much longer than I imagined. The following day I would find I had recorded it very well indeed seeing down to mag +11.

I then moved to NGC 188, an open cluster in Cepheus. I noted I could see it just about with direct vision (DV) however I found it more apparent with averted vision (AV), thus it was very faint.

Finally I moved on to NGC 6939 an open cluster in Cepheus (my chosen constellation this evening) and nearby and in the same field of view NGC 6946, also know as the Fireworks Galaxy close to 2 prominent stars. Now whilst in photos the Fireworks Galaxy is spectacular, in the binos it can only be seen with AV and if you know what you are looking at (or not) then you can imagine the galaxy as it is seen in photography.

Next I grabbed the 6D MkII and started to take some skyscape photos over the top of a glass roof lantern for the centre, but soon after, even though Alan was still imaging I became cold due to so often the case, not enough layers and so packed up and sat in the car. By 9pm we were heading the 30mins back down to our villa for dinner and wine. It would not be until 6:30am for me to venture back out from my warm bed to try and hunt down the comet 38p. However after much noise, maybe waking Alan as I tried to get the binos setup outside my bedroom on the patio, I for the life of me could not see the comet. Within 15mins the rising Sun ruined my view and I retired once again back to bed until 10am. The comet would have to wait until tomorrow.

Expedition Group Arrive at La Palma

Expedition members Alan Lorrain and Dave Shave-Wall have arrived for a visit to La Palma, with the express aim of checking out the North West quadrant of the island for suitability of future BASEG trips.

After arriving at the airport on La Palma around 12pm, think very early flight, the two packed their multiple suitcases into a Seat Leon estate that easily took 5 large suitcases and 4 smaller laptop, rucksack and wheelie bags.

The drive took us past Lidl just North West of the airport for a quick stop, as this was a self catering trip and then heading further West, through the long tunnel and then North through the multiple winding roads. The final piece of the drive to the villa El Sitio at the Garafia complex of 5 or so villas was fairly off road with the car just making it up the steep winding drive. 2 hours had past not including the Lidl stop so it is a fair trek from the airport. The height at the villa is 4,335 ft give or take the error from GPS and puts you above the clouds, at least on arrival.

The accommodation, 1 bedroom and a lounge with a sofa bed are adequate for the weeks stay, the bathroom, eating area, kitchen and patio areas are lovely, there is a shared pool, your own sauna and various paths around the property.

There is also a 10″ Skywatcher Dobsonian telescope with various eyepieces in the small building next to the pool free to use. An extension cable was provided and Christian, the manager who works for Tobias the owner was more than helpful in explaining how to turn off various lights that would come on during the night.

So after a long day, food was in order whilst setting up the equipment for the first nights viewing was going on.

Attending Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2018

So it was a great pleasure to attend the Astronomy Photographer of the Year at Greenwich, London this year after being shortlisted for the category of the Moon.

My good friend and member Bob Trevan accompanied me as I had submitted half a dozen images taken throughout 2017. The event was held at the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich which aided a larger venue for this years global competition. With submissions from around the globe in the region of 4,000 images were judged. On arrival complimentary champagne and wine was given whilst we mingled with winners, runners up and shortlisted photographers. The award ceremony lasted about an hour, it was a real shame many of the winners were unable to attend including the renowned Damian Peach, apparently it was his 40th birthday so we may let him off.

Afterwards we got to walk around the new display that opened to the public the following morning.

All the images were excellent and many were targets we would go after during the following season. What was slightly disappointing was that many people won 2 or event 3 prizes even in the same category, given the amount of submissions it is hard to understand why there judges did not use their discretion to choose other people. Out of all my images, whilst I did not win or even get a runners up prize I did get shortlisted for my photo of the Moon through a 20″ telescope on the top of Tenerife, surprisingly with an iPhone. This image and details therein were published in the 7th edition of the competitions official book which I am very proud of.

At the end of the evening we retired to a hotel in London and then the following morning, Bob and I travelled back to Greenwich to have another look (with less alcohol in our systems, to review the images and to collect a complimentary copy of the book.

Overall it was a great evening and morning and a great event.

Clear Skies

Dave Shave-Wall

Members Visit Kelling Heath Star Party

On the 10th September, members Mark Radice and Dave Shave-Wall set off for the remote corner of East Anglia, the most north easterly part of England to attend the Kelling Heath Star Party. The roads to Kelling from the South East of Englands home county of Hampshire never seem to end, but after nearly 6 hours of driving in Friday afternoon traffic we arrive is this very rural part of England.

We set about setting up tent, cooking some food on the stove and watching the light fade, then we venture out to see who and what have arrived to one of the darkest sky sites and largest star parties England offers.

Many people are still setting up, deep sky imaging rigs are being attended to by budding astrophotographers who dart from here to the there, the red light from their head torches betraying their location as the tighten bolts and attach cables whilst waiting for the clouds to clear. Meanwhile deep sky visual observers sit and relax in their large lounge chairs, massive dobsonian beasts lie still facing horizontally on the grass surrounding the tents.

The Kelling Heath site is massive, over the course of the nights Mark and I walk in the region of 8 miles, back and forth from the Blue to the Red fields, stopping every now and then to ask what people are up to and to hopefully be offered a view through their scopes. Most people are pleasant and welcoming, some less inviting people make a few comments about viewing when people have left their little ‘dell’. In the main though the majority of folk are very nice indeed and this is what makes this star party special. The community of strangers with astronomy in common becomes a close community of friends who want to share.

After a whiles Mark and I stop at a pair of massive binoculars, that turn out to be 5″ APMs and we stare through with eager interest of what is on view. The sight that greets your eyes is pronominal. I had forgotten the effect of using both eyes. Despite the stars being appreciably far away that depth is not really seen, you fall into the large binoculars, eyes darting left and right, up and down, soaking in the view that is most definitely 3D in its nature. M81 and M82 that I had previously looked at through my 6″dob now looks like someone is holding the on a piece of fine fishing line, dangled in front of the stars the actually sit behind. This is the moment of conversion for me, an epiphany, a calling, I commit at this moment in time to go back into visual. No I won’t give up astrophotography, of course not. I will move my setup at home to Spain and gain more data, but I will also buy a pair of these wonderful binoculars and use my 6″ dob to view the night sky, connecting in a way which no other astronomy can connect you to the majesty of the universe.

We wonder here and there, look through the mighty 22″ UC Obsession dob owned by the extremely pleasant and knowledgable Owen Brazell and spy the comet of the moment 21p Giacobini-Zinner just above the hedgerow. The tail definitely showing as it points to around 7 o’clock in the field of view. A view through a set of 6″ binos produces a slightly wider view as the comet sets. We went on to have around a few hours of clear skies, I bagged a handful of objects in the 6″ reminding me just how good this little scope it that is owned by my daughters.

The next day brings conversation with many astronomers after a leisurely bacon fried breakfast cooked by my good friend Mark. We head across to the trade stalls and I decide to dive into the purchase of The Night Sky Observers Guide, Mark had shown me the night before. Think of it as the serious astronomers version of Turn Left at Orion with over 5000 objects to hunt down and see. I purchase volumes 1 and 2 along with a years membership of the Webb Society, with it’s quarterly magazine, The Deep-Sky Observer.

After looking through both 5″ and 6″ binoculars I bump into Altair Astro and their own pair of 4″ binos, much more portable for me for Tenerife and superb quality. They are even about to produce and sell their first bino wedge for the binos which is very akin to the APM wedge on show. A must buy before this years November trip to La Palma.

Again we meet with long lost friends such as Keith Venables whom started my observatory building 14 years ago by borrowing his dome mould that build the IMT-1 and IMT-2 at Bob’s house.  After another night with cloud in toe, we wake, have another breakfast and pack up and head home across the South East. I must admit it was a good trip, great conversation with my friend Mark and having learnt a lot from the new astronomers I met a real change to the direction my astronomy will take over the next 14 years. I look forward to returning one day to Kelling Heath.

The processing begins

Now we have returned from the Tenerife trip, sorting through the data accumulated, in my case some 0.72 Terabytes, starts. Most of the data comes in the form of movie files for the Moon and planets through the MONS telescope. The rest is a mixture of deep sky objects and a small portion of night time shots around the observatory. An example is this shot taken from the ridge overlooking the observatory.

So what types of image am I processing right now? Well here is one I processed in the past few weeks whilst I start to work on some shots of Mars. This is an image of NGC 7023, the Iris nebula. What you are looking at is a reflection nebula, containing dust and gas which has it’s electrons excited by the star within. The rest of the image contains a lot of stars and a huge amount of Interstellar Flux Nebula, pervading clouds of dust within this region of space.

So I will go back to processing some more images and see if I can crack through the 10s of images yet to come from our successful week away.

Thanks Mark

Hi Mark et al,

Seems I’m now in,so to speak, using my Google Gmail details as you said Mark.

‘Twas a good session with Grant last night, albeit the quality of our respective timings still appears a bit vague.

Hopefully we’ll get some proper feedback before too much longer, otherwise there’ll not a a lot of time left before imaging in earnest begins. Others have suggested and I concur with another session or so with Grant before that, now that out practical sessions have finished.

This may help you guys using any such feedback while on Tenerife.