On the road to Chile's big observatories

Posted by David Eicher
on Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Credit: Iztok Boncina/ESO
Tomorrow, I’ll be leaving for Los Angeles and then on to Santiago, Chile, with a group of 28 Astronomy magazine readers for a very exciting trip. For 10 days, we’ll be exploring some of the most important observatories of the Southern Hemisphere and also enjoying dark-sky views of spectacular deep-sky objects, including the Magellanic Clouds, the Carina Nebula, Omega Centauri, and many other attractions. This will all take place in the high Atacama Desert, which may be the greatest place for observational astronomy on the planet.

Our tour leader for this trip will be Daniel Thorpe of MWT Associates. We’ll set off to explore Santiago before traveling northward to Antofagasta. We will next visit the Paranal Observatory, where the European Southern Observatory hosts the Very Large Telescope, which consists of four 8.2-meter instruments, along with the VISTA Survey Telescope and the VLT Survey Telescope.

Next, our group will travel to San Pedro de Atacama, where we will enjoy the rich southern skies. The great astronomer Bart Bok, who I had the pleasure of knowing, used to say, “The Southern Hemisphere holds all the good stuff.” And that wasn’t much of an exaggeration. We’ll visit French astronomer Alan Maury and his observatory, and enjoy the area’s salt flats, lagoons, geysers, and the famous Valley of the Moon. We’ll also see the Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimeter Array (ALMA), one of the great radio telescopes on the planet.

Following our time in San Pedro, we’ll travel to La Serena to see the Mamalluca Observatory and then another big one, the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory, where 14 major telescopes exist, operated by the National Optical Astronomy Observatory, including the 4-meter Blanco Telescope, the 4.1-meter SOAR Telescope, and the GONG Solar Telescope.

By the time we return May 30, we will no doubt be exhausted, but we will have a trip of a lifetime in the rearview mirror with amazing views of southern deep-sky objects blazing in our minds!

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