Why Observatorio del Roque de los Muchachos?

Observatorio del Roque de los Muchachos
Credit: Nik Szymanek and Ian King.

The island of La Palma is a mix of sandy beaches, deserts, tropical forests, pine forests and volcanic mountains. All these on an island only around 100 km (60 miles) long and just over 30 km (20 miles) wide. It is one of the best places on Earth to put a telescope, for the following reasons:

  •  It is near Africa where the weather is much dryer than the UK.
  • There are no street lights around, so the sky is very dark at night.
  • The island has a large mountain (twice the height of Ben Nevis). This means that the telescope is high above the sea level. It looks through less of the atmosphere and is above the cloud layers for much of the year.
  • The sea around the island keeps the air above the mountain stable, making the stars twinkle less.

These reasons mean many of the world's best telescopes are on the mountain. The Liverpool Telescope is the only one that is robotic.

The non-robotic telescopes on site need a person to run them. This means astronomers from around the world travel to La Palma to get their observations. There is a hotel on top of the mountain for all the visitors. It's one of the few hotels in the world designed for guests that sleep during the day and stay up all night!