The Observatory of El Roque de Los Muchachos from the island of La Palma

The Observatory of El Roque de Los Muchachos from the island of La Palma (altitude 2,420 m) is home to one of the most extensive fleets of telescopes to be found anywhere in the world. The reasons for being in La Palma is its latitute which allows the observation of the sky in both celestial hemispheres but more importantly, due to the excellent quality of its sky:

  • the darkness of the island
  • a stable atmosphere
  • the low air and light pollution
  • the observatory being above the cloud level for more than 300 days on a given year
  • the sky of La Palma is also protected by law from 1989 (Law of the sky), enforcing the control of light pollution by regulating street lighting and air communication routes.

The newest incorporation to the Observatory facilities in recent years are 23 Cherenkov telescopes which will be part of the International Cherenkov Telescope Array (CTA). La Palma will be the northern site for this network. The largest Cherenkov telescopes will have 23 m in diameter. In 2016, the fundation has been laid for the 3rd Cherenkov telescope in La Palma.

The Cherenkov Telescope Array (CTA) is the next generation ground-based observatory for gamma-ray astronomy at very-high energies. With more than 100 telescopes located in the northern and southern hemispheres, CTA will be the world’s largest and most sensitive high-energy gamma-ray observatory. This network will be capable of observing the whole of the sky, inside and outside our galaxy as it will have 120 telescopes between both hemispheres. It will also cover a very wide range of energies ranges from several dozen Gev to 100TeV (1 TeV = 1012 eV) seeking to understand the origin and role of relativistic cosmic particles, probe extreme environments and explore physics frontiers.

Photo: Reconstruction of future CTA telescopes - Source: cta-observatory.org
Photo: Reconstruction of future CTA telescopes – Source: cta-observatory.org

The Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) is very possibly another incorporation to the Observatory. It is planned to be located on Mauna Kea (Hawaii) but its construction has been temporarily halted due to protests by Native Hawaiian americans. In 2015, the State Supreme Court of Hawaii invalidated the TMT’s building permits and it is likely that the telescope cannot be built in Hawaii. Hence Roque de los Muchachos Observatory in La Palma is the alternative site. At the end of 2017, the final decision of the site for TMT will be decided.

The TMT is much larger than existing telescopes (although the E-ELT telescope is still bigger) and it is designed to observe from near ultraviolet to mid-infrarred (wavelength 0.31 to 28 μm). It also have adaptive optics which will help to correct errors caused by Earth´s atmosphere helping the telescope to reach its maximum resolution.

Thirty Meter Telescope, Artist's rendering of proposed telescope. Source:wikipedia
Thirty Meter Telescope, Artist’s rendering of proposed telescope. Source:wikipedia