Matt Burleigh age >30 (just)
This web page is designed solely to upset my undergrads..... and
maybe make them think one day they could be doing this too!
Click on the photo to see a larger image.
During the last week of May 2003, while the undergrads were having their
exams, I was observing on the
Jakobus Kapteyn Telescope (JKT) on
La Palma in the Canaries.
I have used the telescope many times,
but unfortunately I fear this was my last visit. It has been deemed
"surplus to requirements" and is being closed at the end of July 2003
(something needed to be seen to be closed to help pay for UK entry to
Pity, when we are about to enter a "Golden Age" of planet-finding and 1m
telescopes like this would be ideal for following up the discoveries of
wide field transit-detecting projects like
WASP (see below)...
The road leading up to the JKT. A few paces to the right and it's a very
long way down.....
Standing on the edge of the Caldera, which is full of cloud.
This is the top of La Palma,
at nearly 9000 feet. It's a long vertical drop from here to the floor of
the old Caldera. This volcano is long extinct, but at the southern end of the
island are smaller, more recent calderas. The last eruption was in 1971 (on
the day I was born in fact). In the centre-right of the image is "crater
ridge", pointing towards the south. The right flank of this ridge is unstable
and geologists fear it may slip into the sea one day, causing a tidal wave
that will flood Florida (the next land mass you come to thousands of miles
to the right in this photo).
I could make a joke about dubious elections at this
point but I won't, I have friends in Miami...
The JKT at sunset, from the edge of the Caldera. That's the larger
Isaac Newton Telescope in the background. It was once stationed at the
Royal Greenwich Observatory at
Herstmonceaux Castle in Sussex, but for
obvious weather reasons came to La Palma in the late 1970s. Today the INT
mainly conducts wide field surveys, such as
made by the XMM-Newton X-ray Observatory.
The INT's future is uncertain beyond 2006, again for funding reasons....
The JKT telescope itself.
It has a 1m-wide main mirror, and a CCD imaging camera at the bottom,
underneath the black felt cover (which keeps out stray light). I was
using the JKT to measure the rotation rates of rare magnetic white dwarf
stars. These objects sometimes have dark starspots which rotate in and out
of view, changing the overall brightness of the star. This is one of the
few reliable ways to measure the spin periods of white dwarfs, an
important parameter for stellar evolution theories.
Oh, and we discovered a comet. 18th mag, or >50 thousand times fainter
than can be seen with the naked eye..... This was a near-Earth object
we were asked to observe by Alan
Fitzsimmons from Queens University Belfast. Turned out to be fuzzy!
Me at the telescope controls of the JKT, obviously concentrating on
something important. The JKT has a fairly large enclosed control room.
Me working on the computer screens that control the CCD camera and
actually take the images. Notice the all-important laptop for essential
viewing of DVDs when concentration becomes too painful in the wee hours...
Some of the other telescopes on La Palma, viewed at sunset from outside the
JKT. The large dome in the centre of the picture is the
currently the largest on the island but soon to be superceded by
the GrandTinCan (or
as the Spanish builders refer to it)
in the distance to the left of the WHT.
GrandTinCan is a near-clone of the twin
Keck telescopes on Hawaii,
10m diameter main mirrors (the WHT's mirror is 4m wide).
WASP Construction Site 30th May 2003
Foundations dug i.e. a shallow hole in the ground
WASP is a novel new telescope
designed to search for giant extra-solar planets which transit in front
of their host stars, temporarily blocking some of the starlight. The
original WASP concept was developed by my Leicester friends and colleagues
Pete Wheatley ,
and Simon Hodgkin (now at Cambridge). WASP stands for... well, "Wide Area
Sky Patrol" is what Pete calls it, although "Wide Angle Survey for Planets"
tells you it's sexiest job, and "What A Stupid Project" describes some of the
early reaction to the concept....
Belfast and St. Andrews have put
a lot of money into building the first production WASP telescope, which
should start observing from La Palma in autumn 2003. At Leicester Pete and
Dave Brett) will be involved in
archiving and mining the huge volume of data collected by
So while I was on La Palma, I took these photos of the
construction site. Click on the photo to see a larger image.
Wasp site as seen from the footpath along the
edge of the caldera, ie looking north. The site is the dirty patch among the
bushes on the right of the photo, a few metres
up the slope off to the right of the road.
The JKT is directly above it in this view (the JKT is the telescope
In the background are the Belgian Mercator Telescope (centre,
partially obscured) and the
Liverpool Robotic Telescope (furthest left). The road curves 180 degrees
all the way around to
the right up to the JKT, although it is hidden by the bushes.
As you can see, the WASP site is on a fairly level
piece of ground on the slope.
The nondescript whitewashed buildings further down the road include the N2
plant. In this view, the WHT is way off to the left.
Looking down onto the WASP site from the road near the JKT.
can see it's on a fairly flat piece of ground on the slope, a few metres
above the road. In the background are the WHT (large dome, right), and the
solar telescope (tall tower).
standing in the shallow foundations of the WASP building.
JKT in the background. They better hurry up and fill this in with concrete,
or the rabbits will be back. And the mountain goats (there was a family
of the buggers with dangerous-looking horns munching the undergrowth
around the JKT that afternoon).
This document was last updated on 30th May 2003 by