Astronomy Lab of a Lifetime – The Suffolk Journal
One of the courses I’m taking this semester is SCI-112, Structure of the Universe, which is a science course with a lab focused on astronomy. This is arguably one of the most popular courses offered at Suffolk Madrid, as the lab takes place in the Canary Islands.
On March 24, our class left for the long-awaited trip. The Canary Islands are part of Spain, but are located closer to the equator, off the coast of northwest Africa. We flew to Tenerife, the the biggest the island, and went up the mountains to Teide Observatory, where we would house and run our lab. Tenerife is home to Mount Teide, a dormant volcano.
This class offers students the extremely unique opportunity to work in this observatory, which houses some of the best solar telescopes in Europe. There are dozens of astronomers doing research at the same time as students doing their labs. The observatory is not open to just anyone. Suffolk Madrid has special permission to bring the class there.
Due to the exclusivity of this opportunity and many other reasons which I will explain as you continue to read, this trip is by far my favorite I have taken in the three months I have been on. have spent in Europe.
There is simply no way to describe the incredible views I saw in Tenerife. We were above the clouds most of the weekend. During the day, the sky was sunny and blue, with fluffy white clouds blocking our view of what was below. In the evening, the sunsets were always beautiful and very colorful.
I’ve always loved the night sky: the stars and especially the moon, so the lack of light pollution at the observatory made for the clearest sky I’ve ever seen in my life. You could see millions of stars, so many different constellations – some of which I had never been able to see before – and there were constantly shooting stars passing by. One of the most amazing things was being able to see the Milky Way with the naked eye.
Our class stayed in dorms located on the property and we ate our meals in the canteen at the observatory. We started working after sunset, around 8:30 p.m., and finished around 3 a.m. One night we were up until 5am. Then we slept until noon, woke up and explored the island.
We did some really cool day trips. We went deep underground into Cueva del Viento, a cave that was carved out by lava flowing from an eruption of Mount Teide. You can see which paths the lava took based on the hardened rock that is there now. We visited Teide National Park, part of which reminded me of the Grand Canyon. We were also able to go down to the beach. The sand was black because it is made of volcanic rock and the water was warm enough to swim in.
Our class spent our evenings outdoors learning the names and formations of different constellations and then locating them in the sky. We also had a telescope to ourselves, and we went up to the dome in groups to learn how to operate it. At the end of the weekend, we were able to move the telescope around to adjust declination and right ascension, to find various objects in the sky.
This class was difficult, which I have never heard of. But after making this trip, I understand why. This lab experience far exceeds any difficulties one might face in the classroom.
Going to this observatory is a unique opportunity that few have been able to experience. Every aspect of the trip was just amazing, and it’s one of the most unique things I’ve ever done.
To anyone considering taking this course: do it. You may have to do a little extra work, but you’ll leave the lab with some of the best experiences and memories ever.