It was very hard to believe but I won a trip to the STARMUS festival and spent an incredible week on Canary Islands in June 2011.
In May a panel of judges chose my ‘Ocean Sky’ time-lapse video as the overall winner of STARMUS astro-photography contest. On top of that I was awarded one hour of observations with Gran Telescopio Canarias (GranTeCan), the largest optical telescope in the world at the Roque de los Muchachos Observatory on the Island of La Palma.
The winning video (full sceen viewing is reomeended)
After 36-hour flight I landed safely on Tenerife Island and checked in to a very nice hotel right on the beach. The festival was to start next day and I had some time to recover from the flight.
Kathryn Gray, the youngest ever supernova discoverer opened the festival and was followed by Dr. Robert Williams, the president of IAU presenting the “Five Key Astronomical Discoveries of the Past 50 Years”.Picture: Right to left: Francisco Sánchez (IAC), Garik Israelian (IAC), Robert Williams (IAU), Juan Ruiz (ACIISI), Buzz Aldrin, Alexei Leonov
Then Buzz Aldrin shared his Apollo 11 experience, Jill Tarter presented “Intelligent Life in the Universe”, astronaut astronaut and astrophysicist Claude Nicollier described his “Visits to Hubble”, Michel Mayor talked about his excellent research on Extra-Solar planets and Leslie Sage from Nature talked about “How Astronomy Has Changed What it Means to be Human”.
The following four days were as impressive and informative. The speakers included two Nobel laureates -cosmologist George Smoot and biologist Jack Szostak – talking about the ‘Signals from the Beginning of the Universe’ and ‘The Origin of Life on Earth’, black hole guru Kip Thorne and biologist Richard Dawkins. Apollo mission astronauts Neil Armstrong, Bill Anders, Jim Lovell, Charlie Duke and Russian cosmonauts Alexei Leonov and Yuri Baturin shared their experience in space. Brian May the guitarist of Queen and astrophysicist presented a moving talk about risks of bad human behaviour taken to beyond Earth. All astronauts, cosmonauts and scientists were very open to public at lunch breaks and dinners.
On Wednesday night when I turned 36, invited guests including Neil Armstrong, sang Happy Birthday at the gala dinner – it was a moment to remember.
Australian pioneer astro-photographer David Malin hosted a star party on Mt Teide, 2200 metres above sea level. Although there was some dust from Sahara desert in the atmosphere, the views were great nonetheless.
On Thursday morning we had a tour at Mt. Teide Observatory, which was my first visit to a professional optical observatory and it was excellent. We saw a few professional telescopes including 80cm telescope, 1.52m Telescopio Carlos Sanchez and THEMIS – a very impressive French Solar observatory.Picture: THEMIS Solar Observatory Mt Teide, Tenerife
La Palma Observatory and the date with GranTeCanPicture: Gran Telescopio Canarias, La Palma Picture: Zodiacal Light at Gran Telescopio Canarias, La Palma Picture: Panorama of Moonlit Gran Telescopio Canarias under the Milky Way, La Palma
It was most unforgettable experience. Situated on the volcanic peak 2,267 metres and above clouds, the chances of good weather at night were rather good and Weather Gods did not disappoint. I arrived at the telescope in the evening with the astronomer on duty and we started preparing the observation plan. After long consideration back home, I chose Arp84 for the observation mainly because it is a nice pair of interacting galaxies that fits into the field of view of the imaging instrument on GranTeCan and I could not find a detailed colour image of this object. When the twilight ended the telescope was pointed at the pair of galaxies NGC5394 and NGC5395 and we took a first few shots to position the object in the 7.8’ field of view. Then the imaging sequence with green, red, infrared, H-alpha and SIII filters was executed flawlessly (thanks, Riccardo!)
The atmosphere was rather stable and seeing varied in 0.8-1 arc-seconds (which is very good). The image turned out great and Noel Carboni, whom I met for the first time at STARMUS kindly offered his experience and helped to produce this colour image from the individual channels.Picture: Imaging Arp84 in GranTeCan control room, La Palma Picture: ARP 84 taken at GTC (colour data processing by Noel Carboni)
The next day I had a tour of the observatory visiting the MAGIC, a pair of 17m Gamma Ray photon detector dishes, Swedish Solar Observatory and 2.54m Isaac Newton Telescope.Picture: MAGIC, Major Atmospheric Gamma-ray Imaging Cherenkov Telescopes Picture: Night MAGIC Picture: MAGIC Star Trails
Outer Space Time Lapse (full sceen viewing is reomeended)
I got to spend two nights at the observatory and used the opportunity to make this time-lapse video with Gran Telescopio Canarias featured in the first half and MAGIC Telescopes in the second. There is a very effective sky protection law on the Island of La Palma and the sky looked magnificent without the dreaded light pollution seen elsewhere.
And of course I could not resist making 360-degree virtual tours:
If you click on the Virtual Tour thumbnails at the left you should be able to pan and zoom using the buttons at the bottom of the image or just click and drag it with the mouse to pan and use Shift/Ctrl keys to zoom in and out. Adobe Flash player is required.
It was a truly great event where I met new friends and got to talk to some very interesting people. Getting over STARMUS withdrawal symptoms is no easy task!