Observing the heavens above Tenerife
Visual astronomy can be just as captivating and thrilling astronomical journey as photography. Age-old tradition of astronomical sketching is still being done by various amateur astronomers around the world. In this article we hear about an incredible observing trip to Mt. Teide National Park in Tenerife and how to sketch and observe different objects in the night-sky!
Visual astronomy is an awe-inspiring hobby that has captivated stargazers for centuries. It allows enthusiasts to explore the vast expanse of the universe using nothing more than their eyes, a telescope, and a clear night sky. In this article, we will delve into the world of visual astronomy, discussing its history, tools, and the wonders of the night sky that can be observed through visual observations.
The History of Visual Astronomy
Visual astronomy has a rich history that dates back thousands of years. Ancient civilizations, such as the Babylonians and Greeks, were among the first to systematically record observations of celestial objects and their movements. The advent of the telescope in the 17th century marked a significant turning point in the development of astronomy. It allowed astronomers to explore the cosmos in greater detail and unlock the secrets of the universe.
“Last year, I had the incredible opportunity to visit Gran Canaria, and ever since that experience, a deep desire to return to the Canary Islands for some captivating astronomical observations and astrophotography has been burning within me. Just few weeks ago, this long-cherished dream became a reality as I embarked on my journey to Mount Teide!
Upon arrival, the weather forecast for my stay appeared promising, and despite the ongoing fires in the northeastern part of the island, I was greeted by a clear, smoke-free sky. As the sun gracefully dipped below the horizon, a celestial marvel unfolded before my eyes—the core
of the Milky Way began to gleam, growing increasingly brilliant as the night's darkness enveloped the landscape.”
The site Puoskari had selected for his stargazing adventure was Minas De San Jose—a remarkable desert of pumice banks adorned with massive volcanic rock pillars. This almost martian terrain was the cherry on top – “It was as though I had set foot on a distant planet; the desolate terrain bore a striking resemblance to the surface of Mars.”
Puoskari walked a bit further away from the near-by road to get away from cars that could affect night-vision. He carried 80/560mm refractor and a Star Adventurer 2i equatorial mount with him to through the pumice banks to be greeted by perfect silence and peace of the wilderness. This rather small setup was all that was possible to take on a plane but it was still able to deliver outstanding views when paired with the right eyepieces, Puoskari explains.
“I brought with me three eyepieces: Celestron X-Cel LX 12mm and 25mm and also a Baader Hyperion 8mm. My most used eyepiece was Celestron X-Cel 12mm as it gave me best views and more suitable magnification with my telescope.”
Sketching what you see in the eyepiece requires extensive patience and skill that one can only acquire through experience. By using averted vision and giving yourself atleast 30 minutes to fully adapt to the surrounding darkness you can see a lot of details in different nebulosities and galaxies in the sky.
Tips for astronomical sketching:
• Before sketching find yourself a comfortable position to observe and be able to draw in the same position. Sketching takes a lot of time and patience but it is also very rewarding and relaxing.
• Experiment with different magnifications, you might be surprised how much more you can see by simply changing the eyepiece.
• Use a sharp pencil to sketch your stars – start with the brightest ones and work your way to dimmer stars until you are satisfied. Stars are pinpoints and keeping the pencil sharp makes it a lot easier to draw them.
• For nebulous areas use various sizes of Tortillon’s, mix a small amount of graphite on the tip and sketch the most obvious, brightest areas first. After that work your way down to the dimmest areas and add details as you see fit. It is worth experimenting with different shades of graphite.
Challenges and Rewards
Visual astronomy has its challenges, such as light pollution from urban areas, atmospheric turbulence, and the need for patience and dedication. However, the rewards are immeasurable. The feeling of connecting with the cosmos and experiencing the beauty of the universe firsthand is a truly enriching and humbling experience.
“Observational astronomy on Mt. Teide was a lot of fun, I have made hundred's of astronomical sketches in the past but this trip is something I will remember for the rest of my life. The hidden jewels of the southern skies like Sculptor Galaxy and Helix Nebula or the magnificent Lagoon Nebula had me awestruck for hours! Seeking the targets manually was challenging but also rewarding and time just flew by as I got my pencils out.”
Visual astronomy is a captivating journey that allows enthusiasts to explore the mysteries of the universe one star at a time. With the right tools and a passion for the night sky, anyone can embark on this incredible voyage of discovery. Whether you're a beginner or a seasoned stargazer, there is always something new to see and learn through the lens of a telescope or a pair of binoculars. So, on a clear night, step outside, gaze up at the stars, and let visual astronomy take you on an unforgettable adventure through the cosmos.