... one of the most important observatories in the world for studying the sun

Volcano Teide Experience offers the opportunity to visit the most important observatory in the world for studying the sun, with outstanding views of the Teide and Las Cañadas from Izaña.

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Origins

Izaña Observatory is located at 2,390 metres above sea level. It was opened in 1964 and specialises in the study of the sun. Since 2015, it's been possible to wander around its facilities with the help and guidance of Volcano Teide Experience.

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Izaña Observatory was built at that altitude as a result of the clean atmosphere there. This is because of the trade winds from the north, the influence of the cold currents from the Atlantic Ocean and the fact that the clouds tend to sit below 2,000 metres above sea level.

Guided tour outside the Izaña Observatory

I visited at the end of September, and although it was a sunny day the atmosphere wasn't great because it was hazy. Tours start at 12 noon and 2:30pm.

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Try to be punctual, because the observatory is in a restricted-access area and someone has to wait at the barrier to let you in. Don't separate from the group and make sure you stick to the paths.

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The visit started in the car park, which has a panoramic view of the observatory. Afterwards we went to the Visitors' Centre and then headed to the area with the night-time telescopes. We were able to observe the sun, some sunspots and flares using a telescope with a hydrogen-alpha filter. Finally we went into the Carlos Sánchez telescope, where they taught us how it works.

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The sun's light takes 8 minutes to get to Earth, and through the telescope the sun looks red because that is the colour of hydrogen.

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Tour of the Visitors' Centre with Volcano Teide Experience

You can take photos and record videos in the dome of the Visitor's Centre at Izaña Observatory, but it has to be without flash. While we were there, they explained the observatory's aims, the origins of the universe, the differences between planets and stars, the various types of stars that exist, how many planets have been discovered and why astronomy is important for the human race, among other things

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The sun's surface can reach 6,000 degrees, but on the sunspots temperatures go as high as 14,000 degrees. Although you might not think so, the sun is considered a small or medium-sized star.

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They also did a test to show us how blind the human eye is, as we can only see a small proportion of light (known as visible light). One of the guides approached a wall and put his hand on it. On the other side, a special machine took an image of the wall and on a screen we could see the heat imprint (infrared image) his hand had left there.

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Tour inside the Carlos Sánchez telescope

Finally, we had the chance to go inside one of the telescopes at Izaña Observatory. For our own safety, we couldn't go beyond a yellow line on the ground.

It was the first telescope to be installed on the Teide in 1972 and possibly one of the most cost-effective in the whole world. This isn't just because of how long it's been in operation, but also because of the recycled materials that were used to build it.

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Tenerife Travel Secret

The visible metallic structure of the telescope is made from the remains of World War II ships, and to move its 6 tonnes of weight they added pieces of an American Shermann tank into the telescope's motor.

They spent nearly half an hour explaining how infrared rays in the universe are captured, what the various parts of the Carlos Sánchez are, and what the telescope's camera is made of that allows it to take photographs of the light coming from the centre of our galaxy and from some of the most primitive galaxies many thousands of light years away ...

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It's possible that much of the light that is photographed comes from before many human civilisations existed or even long before our solar system or galaxy was formed.

General facts about Izaña Observatory

The Teide observatory is an astrophysics institute open to the scientific community, and it has 3 different departments:

  • Study of microwaves, researching the origins of the universe
  • Night-time telescopes
  • Study of the sun

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Tenerife Travel Secret

The Teide observatory is the most important in the world for observing the sun, although there are two other important ones: in Hawaii and in the Atacama Desert in Chile.

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These are some of the largest telescopes at the Izaña Observatory:

  • Thémis belongs to France and Italy and has a 90cm-wide mirror.
  • Gregor is the main and largest solar telescope in Europe. It is German and its mirror measures a metre and a half.
  • The VTT vacuum tower in the centre is 100% German with a 70cm mirror, and it is the largest building in the observatory at 18 storeys high (10 above ground and 8 underground).
  • The solar pyramid studies solar seismology and is the only solar observatory doing night-time observations to study the universe.
  • OGS has a metre-wide mirror and one of its many tasks is cataloguing and mapping space debris.
  • El Quijote is a Spanish and English hard-working microwave telescope. It is unique in the world and is intended to solve the mystery of the origins of the universe.
  • Carlos Sánchez is a Spanish infrared telescope manufactured by the English, with a manual 1.5-metre mirror which photographs infrared light coming from the universe.
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How to get to Izaña Observatory

The only way to get there is by transfer arranged with Volcano Teide Experience or in your own car. From both the north and the south of the island, head towards Las Cañadas del Teide and take the road towards La Esperanza and La Laguna when you get to Portillo.

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C/ Vía Láctea s/n, 38200 La Laguna

Final comments from the authors about the Observatory

The visit was very entertaining and invited people to ask interesting and curious questions. Obviously it was all caused by the friendliness of the Volcano Teide Experience guides, who made the technical information accessible to everyone without needing lots of astronomy knowledge.

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I think anyone with an ounce of curiosity about what lies beyond Earth/in the universe would find this an unparalleled experience and a masterclass for clarifying astral and solar concepts. It's also a pretty unique opportunity, as very few observatories in the world allow you to visit in such a simple way.

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It was personally a very enriching experience for me, as I've always been interested in astronomy. I remember when I was 11 years old I got an eye-catching red telescope from the Three Kings that included some maps, among them one of the moon. When my parents allowed me out onto the roof on cold nights, I was able to investigate and discover that a whole other Tenerife is up there ☺

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