Five years af­ter its last ob­ser­va­tions in Eng­land, the Isaac New­ton Tele­scope was ready for its light in La Palma

Sky at Night Magazine - - THE ISAAC NEWTON TELESCOPE -

The night of 13/14 Fe­bru­ary 1984 proved to be an im­por­tant one for the Isaac New­ton Tele­scope: it was the first time it was turned to­wards the sky above its new home at Roque de los Mucha­chos Ob­ser­va­tory, La Palma. As Sir Pa­trick Moore wrote af­ter­wards in his then-reg­u­lar column for the Il­lus­trated Lon­don

News: “That mo­ment of ‘first light’ marked the real be­gin­ning of a new chap­ter in the story of as­tron­omy in gen­eral and British as­tron­omy in par­tic­u­lar.”

‘First light’ is an in­ter­est­ing rite of pas­sage for any tele­scope, or in­stru­ment. Few of the re­sult­ing astro­nom­i­cal im­ages have much sci­en­tific value, as even the small­est tele­scope needs some on-site fine-tun­ing to get the best re­sults. Yet there’s of­ten a ‘wow’ fac­tor none­the­less.

The Isaac New­ton Tele­scope, of course, has the rare hon­our of hav­ing had two first lights: its orig­i­nal 1967 open­ing at the Royal Green­wich Ob­ser­va­tory at Her­st­mon­ceux, and then – with a new dome and a big­ger, 100-inch mir­ror – in La Palma. Its sec­ond first light was recorded us­ing a video cam­era, de­liv­er­ing im­ages of the Crab and Orion Neb­u­lae, and gal­ax­ies M51 and NGC 4151.

Pa­trick, re­port­ing from La Palma in April for the June 1984 edi­tion of The Sky at Night, was par­tic­u­larly im­pressed by the tele­scope’s first im­age of the Ring Ne­bula in Lyra. “All the in­tri­cate de­tails in the Ring were en­hanced,” he later wrote. “It was dif­fi­cult to be­lieve that we were look­ing at an ob­ject well over 1,000 lightyears away.”

The Isaac New­ton Tele­scope (ar­rowed) is part of a wider network of tele­scopes in La Palma

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