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The best sky in Europe: La Palma

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Sunset view of the 3.6-m Telescopio Nazionale Galileo (left) and 10.4-m Gran Telescopio Canarias (right).

Oscar and I have just arrived in La Palma, one of the Spanish Canary Islands, where we will be spending the next few days taking radial velocity follow-up observations of Kepler and K2 exoplanet candidates. As this tiny island  is situated north of the equator, we are not able to observe any TESS targets from here (yet!), as TESS is currently observing stars in the southern hemisphere. Even though these are not TESS targets, this is great training for when our targets are observable from here.


The TNG. This 21 year old telescope primarily contributes to the study of exoplanets, the most distant galaxies in the Universe and nearby comets and asteroids within our own Solar System.

We will be using the Italian owned 3.58-metre Telescopio Nazionale Galileo (TNG) with the HARPS-N instrument, located at the Roque de los Muchachos Observatory. At it’s highest point of 2,400 m above sea level, the observatory lies above a beautiful ‘sea of clouds below which we find ourselves surrounded by the vast extent of the Atlantic ocean. It is this body of water that ensures that the air at the observatory is very stable, providing us with the perfect conditions to look at stars, galaxies, and our own solar system. There’s good reason as to why they call this one of the best places on Earth to observe the night sky.

We will start to use the telescope tonight, at which point I’ll be able to tell you much more about how this exciting instrument works and about the thrilling process of discovering distant worlds.


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