27 March 2014

The mighty Optical Ground Station Telescope, Tenerife, Canary Islands

Jyri Kuusela, Physicist Optical Ground Station (OGS)
Tenerife, Canary Islands 2014
background: OGS observatory patners

The OGS (Optical Ground Station) telescope, installed in the Teide Observatory, Tenerife, Canary Islands has been built by Carl Zeiss, is owned by ESA (European Space Agency) and is operated by the IAC (Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias). More precisely a small 3 men crew sub-contractor led by Mr. Jyri Kuusela, an Finnish astrophysicist that has attempted also our local University of Turku, Finland is now operating this instrument of precision to observe the solar system. His company is in charge of the operations.

I had the chance to interview Mr. Kuusela at the OGS (Optical Ground Station) telescope at the Teide Observatory in Tenerife, Canary Islands. This is what he told me:

Since its building in 1991, the OGS telescope has been directed by the institute of Astrophysics of Canary Islands (Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias). They helped achieve the requested observation mandated by ESA, the European Space Agency, but had reservations on the way it should be executed. That is where Mr. Kuusela comes in and applied for a solution to start a company to be sub-contracted by the Inst. Astrophysics. Canary Isl. To run the ESA agenda. Now few years later, the 3 men crew led by Jyri Kuusela and two more graduate works together to control the Optical Ground Station Telescope.

There are specific tasks to be done, for example this camera has to be installed today, says Mr. Kuusela with a smile.

OGS telescope in Teide Observatory
1 m Ritchey-Chretien / Coudé telescope
supported by an English-built mount
inside a dome 12.5 m in diameter.
 Mr. Kuusela mentioned the 3 most important investigations led by the OGS telescope were to conduct optical laser communication between this Optical Ground Station and a Satellite above in space. Also another important work with the telescope is the observation consecrated to space debris created by satellites on Geo-stationary orbit around the planet. These satellites are satellites we have send and have malfunctioned, caught on fire or exploded and now are space debris in this specific location of Geo-stationary orbits.
Their last invetigation they conduct with the telescope is to identify Near Earth Objects (Neo’s). Many new Neo’s has been identified by Mr. Kuusela and he’s crew from the total of almost 100,000 Near Earth Objects identified as of today, around the astronomy community. The OGS telescope is one of the few ESA telescopes that chase’s the NEO objects as part of the European Space Agency programs.

The future of the OGS telescope lies with the accountability of its findings says Mr. Kuusela. “What I mean is that this OGS telescope has to have good results to keep on going and this depends always on the operating body that is controlling it.” Mr. Kuusela knows his business.

When visiting the telescope he showed me the “basement of the instrument" there you could find a optical bench “table” where you could conduct optical interferometry that could be really used with this 1 meter OGS telescope he mentioned. 

New CCD Camera attached to the 1 meter telescope at OGS, Teide Observatory.
 At the moment of this interview, Mr. Kuusela was changing the camera used to record data for his investigations. It last camera component suppliers didn’t supply anymore, so a new system had to be made, says Mr. Kuusela. This is part of our work here at the OGS.


Your looking for an astronomy adventure? The Maroccan Sahara desert!

Astronomy trip: Grand Evasion in the Sahara desert, Morocco 1.05-04.05.2014
Have a look instead at Astronomy Club Toutatis visit Morocco.
A series of photos/articles of the Moroccan Sahara night sky and astronomy in Morocco.

"Our partner Ali from the Astronomy club 3AM is organizing a Grand Evasion to the Sahara desert. On  May 1 to May 4 2014, he is traveling to the Moroccan Sahara to have a look at the superb night sky of that region.
They are incorporating regional sightseeing as the Kashbah of Ait Ben haddou which is a UNESCO heritage site. Camel excursions to a bivouac in the middle of the desert sounds fabulous. Also many activities concerning astronomy. Observation of the night skies with telescope and day observation of the Sun.

If you are in the neighborhood and interested to participate in this Astronomy trip. Please visit Astronomy Marrakesh 3AM and get in touch with Ali."

22 March 2014

On a quest to identifie, protect and preserve dark night skies, UNESCO STARLIGHT!

Me and Mr. Luis Martínez Sáez at the Starlight Initiative offices
in La laguna, Tenerfie, Canary Islands.
You have surely heard about the UNESCO’s World Heritage sites around the World?
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) encourage the identification, protection and preservation of cultural and natural heritage around the world considered to be of outstanding value to humanity.
This initiative is important right?

What about our night skies? What about our night skies over our cities? What about our night skies in our darkest spots on the planet? Should we protect it? Should we have a similar initiative for world heritage night sky sites?

Mr. Luis Martínez Sáez, Director and founder of the Starlight Foundation is asking the same questions and is eager to have the answers.
One year ago I visited Mr. Luis Martínez to interview him on the Starlight Initiative. You can read a past post on Links Through Space on the last year interview with Mr. Martinéz Sáez here:
This year I went back to meet with Mr. Martínez Sáez in La Laguna, Tenerife and get a follow up on the progress of the Initiative. Last year, the Starlight initiative had 1 destination that had received the Starlight Certificate for dark skies ( Alqueva Dark Sky Reserve, Portugal) and this year the total was 17 destinations, including tourism destinations and natural reserves. 9 more destinations are in progress of negotiation. El Montsec in Catalonia Spain and El Parque Nacional Fray Jorge en chile are one of the Starlight destinations.
Here is a link to these Starlight destinations:

The first Stralight destination Alqueva Dark Sky Reserve:

Some background. The Starlight Foundation is the body in charge of the operational management of the Starlight Initiative, providing human resources and means for the development of the Initiative.
The Starlight Initiative was launched in 2007 from a proposal of the IAC supported by UNESCO - MaB Programme, UNWTO, IAU, and other international conventions such as UNEP-CMS, SCBD, and Ramsar Convention, and is designed as an international action in defense of the values associated with the night sky and the general right to observe the stars.
The final aim of this Initiative is to promote the importance of clear skies for the humankind, emphasizing and introducing the value of this endangered heritage for science, education, culture, technological development, nature conservation, and tourism.

Many of us have never seen a true dark sky. People living in the cities see only the night sky as a peppered, here and there, dot of light. Only the brightest stars are visible, including the planets and the Moon. The light pollution of the street lamps and other source of light infringe our seeing of the night sky. Constellations are barely visible to the naked eye. You have to go further and further out of the cities to be able to see an exceptional night sky.

It's crucial to understand that Dark Sky status does not mean turning lights off. Rather it is about working with people and Councils to create better and less wasteful lighting and promoting the night sky as an asset for the region.

This problem of preserving good quality dark night skies is a real challenge. The expansion of cities with light accumulation, slow political involvement in concrete changes and bad lighting are all major problems against the preservation of dark skies.

I have included the Starlight Foundation LOGO on my blog header to be part of this Initiative and support this Initiative. :)
Please have a look at the Starlight Foundation website:

18 March 2014

Chasing the Green Flash on the coast of the island of Tenerife, Canary Islands.

Series of 162 images saved together in a Gif animation showing the Green Flash.
Shot in Tenerife, Canary Islands.
Credit: S. Lamoureux/Astronomy club Toutatis.

I have been chasing the Green Flash for some time now. I tried my luck in Cambodia on the shores of the bay of Thailand, but some strange dust veil covered the setting Sun and I couldn’t see a proper Sunset. 
Read my other post on Green Flashs: What is a Green Flash?

This time while taking a vacation on the island of Tenerife in the Canary Islands with my family, the infamous Green Flash revealed itself to me.
An easy downhill walk from the hotel to the beach was enjoyable every night. I have to add also that the setting Sun was just to the left of the Island of La Gomera. A few degrees more and the Sun would have set behind the island.  So I was lucky.

Sun setting just at the left of the island of La Gomera, Canary Islands.
A few degree more and the Sunset would have set behind the island.
Images taken from Tenerife, Canary Islands.
Credit: S. Lamoureux/ Astronomy club Toutatis.
I had a Canon 550D with an old 300mm teleview lens equipped with the Magic Lantern software. My plan was to take a couple of shots to focus and frame the Sun correctly and just take pictures like crazy. I used the intervalometer mode added by the Magic Lantern software and took shots every second or so. The software is loaded onto the SD card in the camera simple reboot installs the software into the camera. This type of shooting permits you to do individual picture (in this case a still picture composition of the green flash), Timelapse animations or videos and in other cases Startrail pictures as well.        

Here you can see that I used all my shots to produce two short animations of the setting Sun and a still picture composition. The animations give you a real sense of movement to it and shows well the green flash in action. On the other hand the still picture give you time to observe the phenomena in details (click on still picture to enlarge).

To do the animations I used Photoshop to crop the images, there are no colors or levels or nothing adjusted only crop to get an adequate size for the animations. Then I dropped all the images in Gimp and made a Gif animation out of it. Simple and effective!
The still composition is made from 3 images and put together in Photoshop. (No levels adjustments has been made either on the still picture). It was important to keep all the true data from the images and show the real thing. All images where recorded in RAW.

A still picture composite of 3 different images of the Green Flash.
Tenerife, Canary Islands.
Credit: S. Lamoureux/Astronomy club Toutatis.
As I was watching the Sun going down, I was looking through the camera eye to see the Green Flash in action. No knowing too much what to expect I saw the Sun setting and saw the greenish colors on top of the Sun on different occasions during the Sunset.
My first reaction was a loud laugh and a sense of achievement. I had the Green Flash in my back pocket! What a feeling! I guess the people around me felt it too.

Enjoy the animations and pictures. If you are like me and want to chase the Green Flash, just do it. It was very worth it and this is a phenomena that not much people have seen. Good luck and great Sunsets.