Chile’s Window to the Heavens

Imagine lying back and looking up to a night-sky filled with more stars than you have ever seen before. You can do this in Chile.  The mountains blocking a significant amount of cloud coverage, the expanse of the Pacific ocean to the west, and the absence of light pollution make the Atacama Desert the perfect location for the study of our universe.

There are many observatories in Chile including the European Southern Observatory  (ESO).  Most of these are off limits to tourist but some do have hours of access.  Additional telescopes are added as the technology improves.  In fact, the ESO just began the construction of an Extremely Large Telescope, referred to in articles as E-ELT.  It will take at least 10 years to finish the construction and will house a telescope as big as a football field and will weight 5,000 tonnes.**  This telescope will produce pictures 15 times sharper than those sent from the Hubble Telescope (in space).

There is an organization representing an amateur and professional astronomers that is available to you on the internet called Slooh.  Their mission is to make the wonders of the Universe available to everyone. Some of the “shows” of astronomy events are free but a subscription is required for admittance to many more resources.  One of those options is the ability to remotely control a telescope.  You get the chance to reserve time on a telescope five times a month for just slightly less than five dollars a month.  I have a subscription but I have not yet taken advantage of the remote control.  I did note though that none of the available telescopes for my membership level are in Chile.  Take a look at this site and watch for upcoming events.  I have watched events on this before at the free level. I believe I watched the most recent Blood Moon.  There are different telescopes that provide views of the occurrence and professionals are on-line discussing the happenings and related material.

Some places on earth are just better for watching the skies.  Cities have too many lights to allow a good view of the sky.  This is called Light Pollution. Go to this site called DarkSiteFinder to see a map that shows the areas of the earth that have light pollution and those that have less.  How far would you have to travel to get to a place with low light pollution?

**(Interesting side note – The USA and Canada use 2,000 pounds as net weight for a ton and is called a “short ton”.  The Long Ton is used in the Imperial system (UK and other English speaking countries) and is equal to 2,240 pounds or 1016 kilograms.  Since the article I referenced for this fact was from the UK, I am to assume the 5,000 tonnes is equal to 11,200,000 (11 million and 200 thousand pounds).