The island of La Palma has just marked a year since it introduced it’s Starlight initiative to protect the night skies from light polution. The Canary Islands government has a sky law that makes sure that only a certain softer version of street lighting is used and generally protects it from harsh intrusions. This continues a long tradition of astronomy based on the Canary Islands, where the night sky is noted for it’s clearness.
It all goes back 150 years ago, when an astronomer, Charles Piazzi Smyth visited Tenerife and wrote a book praising the trade winds and layered air streams that made the Canary Islands perfect for star gazing. La Palma is now at the centre of the astronony world with a 189 hectare observatory 2,400 metres above sea level at Roque de los Muchachos, the islands highest point.
The project was started in 1982 and the site now boasts 14 working telescopes supplying information to countries around the world. Pride of place goes to GRANTECAN, Gran Telescopio de Canarias, the biggest segmented primary mirror in the world. It took it’s first look into space in January 2007, and is being tuned to perfection in 2008 before it undertakes it’s full work load.
The telescope has captured the imagination of the scientific world and even Queen guitarist Brian May was been a frequent visitor as he completed his PHD in astronomy. Keeping the skies clear is another challenge that faces the Canary Islands if they are to stay at the forefront of the ecology movement.