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.

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.

Tenerife9 2018 Session Ends Early – Saharan Dust Stops Play

The group has had to bring the session to an early close due to the Saharan dust levels wiping out the sky quality. Known as the Calima, hot winds from the East bring Saharan dust across to Tenerife which destroys the sky quality needed for deep sky imaging.

We monitored the SONG (Stellar Observations Network Group) weather page throughout the week to assess our chances at clear sky imaging. When the red level is breached then the resident telescopes at Teide close their domes. For our purposes we were looking for dust levels around 0.001 which is below the yellow line.

Reproduced with kind permission of the SONG Telescope (data values by STELLA)

Before the Calima arrived the SQM was measured to be around 21.68 mag/arc sec2 (Bortle class 4) compared to around 20.5 (Bortle class 4/5) in the UK local area. Bob’s image also shows the visible layer of Calima dust :

Calima dust layer blocks the view to Mount Teide

It was a good week for all regardless of the common issues many of us encountered that stopped initial imaging attempts but once into the groove some nice images started to appear both for the portable deep sky imagers and those using the Mons Telescope for spectroscopy and lunar/planetary imaging (Mars/Jupiter/Saturn/Neptune/Uranus).

The founding BASEG members

We would like to extend our gratitude to the IAC for allowing us to the use of the Mons Telescope and the associated facilities ….. gracias amigos 🙂

Preparing for my first Tenerife trip

So since I don’t have a mobile setup like the veterans of the group I’m resigned to fact that I need to take most of my UK setup with me abroad. This means some serious weight to transport, so basically I have the following to pack and carry :

  • Hold bag1 (~18Kg)
    • Skywatcher NEQ6 mount
  • Hold bag2 (~18Kg)
    • Skywatcher Tripod (7Kg)
    • Counterweight (5Kg)
    • Box of accessories (~6Kg)
      • PSU, cables etc
    • Clothes …. I guess
  • Cabin bag1 (~7Kg)
    • Tak FSQ85
    • Tak focal reducer
    • Atik 460 CCD imaging camera
    • Lodestar guide camera
    • PoleMaster camera
    • Lakeside focuser control unit
    • Unihedron SQM
    • ADM Scope plate
  • Cabin bag2 (~6Kg)
    • Atik EFW2 and filters
    • Laptop & NUC
    • Various digital items (GPS, USB hard disk etc)
    • ADM mount puck and scope rings

Hopefully the scope bag will in in the overhead with it’s precious contents….don’t drop it ! The laptop bag should fit under the seat….hopefully.

I won’t be sure on the final weights until the digital handheld scales I’ve ordered arrive tomorrow.

At the moment I’m just finishing the calibration and setup of the Lakeside focuser and it’s configuration in SGPro.

Update : The digital scales arrived so now I have weights for a few items and move things around a bit –

  • Hold Bag1 = 19.3kg
  • Hold Bag2 = 22.5Kg
  • Cabin Bag1 = 8kg
  • Cabin Bag2 = 8.85Kg