19 March 2013

Institute of Astrophysics of the Canary Islands (IAC)

Radio Telescope (not in use)
San Cristóbal de La Laguna
Credit: Astronomy Club Toutatis
Follow our Astronomy Club Toutatis through our visit to the Canarian astronomy in Tenerife, Canary Islands.

Today we introduce the reason for all the astronomical activities in the Canary Islands: The Instituto de Astrofisica de Canarias (IAC) or Institute of Astrophysics of the Canary Islands.

There are very few places in the world that can boast all of the conditions needed for modern astronomy. The mountain summits of Tenerife and La Palma in the Canary Islands enjoy these exceptional conditions and this has converted them into a “magnet” for some of today’s most advanced telescopes. Spain set up the IAC to make the most of the scientific and technological opportunities offered by this outstanding access to the sky over the islands, which constitutes in its self a valuable natural resource.
The Spanish authorities have also protected the astronomical qualities of the sky by imposing restrictions by means of the “sky law” that regulates, among other things, the use of outdoor lighting. As a result the IAC observatories are considered to be an astronomy reserve.
UNESCO, as part of its Starlight initiative is currently working to recognize and catalog exceptional sights, like the Teide and Roques de los Muchachos Observatories, as “world class astronomy reserve”. 

Los Roques, National parc Teide, Tenerife, Canary islands
Credit: Astronomy Club Toutatis
(Click on picture to enlarge)
The aim of the project is to emphasize the importance of preserving the qualities of clear dark skies at night and our universal right to observe the stars.
Astrophysics is one of the most fruitful branches of knowledge, not just because it provides a window on the Universe and a source of understanding about the laws of nature, but because the questions posed by astrophysics have on going relevance for Physics and other branches of science.
Moreover, the demands made by astronomical observation continually drive forward the development of advanced technology in the form of scientific instruments.
Astronomy is also a powerful, yet subtly attractive, cultural instrument, because it’s speaks to our innate desire to gaze at the sky and to try to understand where we come from and what is our place in the Universe.

Knowledge of the Universe
The overall objective of the IAC’s activities is that of contributing to improving our understanding of the Universe. The research program covers a wide range of topics: The structure of the Universe and cosmology, the structure and evolution of Galaxies and Stars, the Sun, interstellar matter, the Solar system, the history of astronomy, atmospheric optics and high spatial resolution, optical and infrared instruments, astrophysics from space and telescope design and construction.

Technological development
The IAC is also an advanced technology center. Although its main purpose is to produce instruments for astronomy, the institute also develops technology for general use that has applications for other fields of science and technology by championing and working with high value added industries.

Researcher and technician training
The IAC has always placed emphasis on training for science and technology personnel, seeing this as fundamental for the development of astrophysics in Spain. A permanent post-graduate school therefore receives young graduates and engineers from all over the world, who are employed on temporary work contracts as “resident astrophysicists”. They are incorporated into research groups so that they can further their training and complete a doctoral thesis.

The human resources and support team
All of the IAC’s activities, and those of its International Observatories, are made possible by their administrative and operational staffs, which are managed by the director’s office and the general administration. This team insures that the complex network that is the Instituto de Astrofisica, the centro de astrofisica de La Palma, The Teide and Roques de los Muchachos observatories all work together efficiently.

Cultural education
Science is an important component of Culture. The IAC is an important resource for fostering public awareness about science and culture. This is a core activity for the organization and one to which it has an ongoing commitment. The IAC has achieved notable success with its press releases, publications and other awareness raising campaigns for the general public, some examples of which are:
  • Information and consultancy about science for the mass media
  • Organized visits to the observatories and open doors events
  • Astronomy image bank
  • Press releases and information campaigns on the GTC (Gran Telescopio Canarias). 
The IAC has been awarded numerous prizes for its science information and public education campaigns.

The Northern European Observatory
In 1979 the IAC Observatories were opened up to international participation with the signing of the “Agreement on Co-operation in Astrophysics”. Today, thanks to this Framework Agreement over 60 scientific bodies from Armenia, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Iceland, Italy, Mexico, Norway, Poland, Russia, Spain, Sweden, Taiwan, the Ukraine, The UK and the USA have telescopes and specialized instruments for Astrophysics research installed at the Observatories. Each of the components of IAC, Instituto de Astrofisica, the centro de astrofisica de La Palma, The Teide and Roques de los Muchachos observatories, are individual Spanish research and technology centers in their own right. Together, however, they form a major resource of great international importance: The Northern European Observatory.

Institutions from numerous countries have access to the facilities of the IAC observatories through an International Scientific Committee, the main contribution that they make for using the “Canarian Sky” for astronomy is 20 % of observing time (plus 5% for programs of international collaboration) on each of their telescopes sited at the observatories. This is a significant amount of time, which is distributed to Spanish astronomers by a Time Allocation Committee (CAT) on the basis of the scientific merit of their applications.
READ NEXT POST HERE on our trip through Canarian Astronomy on the island of Tenerife, Canary Islands.

Institute of Astrophysics of Canary Islands (IAC) website
WIKI: Institute of Astrophysics of Canary Islands (IAC)
The Northern European Observatory (IAC) website
Roques de los Muchachos Observatory (La Palma)
Teide Observatory (Tenerife)

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