The Canary Islands attract millions of visitors every year. They come for the warm climate, beautiful beaches, and rugged volcanic mountains. And many of them are attracted by another natural wonder: dark night skies. In fact, skywatchers account for several hundred thousand visitors a year. And thanks to laws that protect the view, the numbers are growing.
It’s not just tourists who admire the skies of the Canary Islands, which are off the west coast of Africa. Professional astronomers are there, too. The islands are home to two major observatories. The combination of clear skies and stable air give them some of the best viewing conditions on Earth.
Teide Observatory, on the island of Tenerife, got its first telescope in 1964. Today, it hosts an assortment of mostly small telescopes for nighttime viewing, and several more for watching the Sun.
The other observatory, Roque de los Muchachos, is 8,000 feet high on the island of La Palma. It includes the largest individual optical telescope mirror on Earth, the Grand Canary Telescope. The mirror is made of 36 segments, and it spans 34 feet.
Several other large telescopes share the site, which was dedicated in 1985. There are quite a few smaller telescopes, too, including some that automatically hunt for planets in other star systems.
These instruments help make the Canary Islands among the busiest of all skywatching sites — for the professionals, and everyone else, too.
Script by Damond Benningfield