Clear skies

Astronomy tourism in Chile

It’s hard not to see the stars in northern Chile, where dry air and clear skies make the region one of the best places in the world to star-gaze.

Monday, May 16, 2011  
Chile is a must-visit destination, not only does the region host one-third of the world’s telescopes Chile is a must-visit destination, not only does the region host one-third of the world’s telescopes, but local governments have taken steps to reduce light pollution.

For those who would contemplate the universe, northern Chile is a must-visit destination. Not only does the region host one-third of the world’s telescopes, but local governments have taken steps to reduce light pollution, letting you observe the austral constellations even on a casual evening stroll.

 

World-class observatories near Antofagasta and La Serena attract astronomers from every corner of the planet, and also offer tours for the general public. At an altitude of 8,600 feet (2.62 kilometers) above sea level, the Paranal observatory is home to one of the world’s largest telescopes, the Very Large Telescope project, and offers free tours. Further south near La Serena, the La Silla observatory also hosts cutting-edge technology and tours for the general public.

 

Amateur astronomers can enjoy Chile’s clear skies in various “observatorios turisticos” -- touristic observatories -- in the IV Region of Coquimbo, in and around the Valle de Elqui. Observatories like Mamalluca, Pangue, Cruz del Sur and Collowara offer tours for the general public and are easily-accessible from tourist centers like Vicuña and La Serena.

 

Local tourism agencies in the region offer “star tours,” which often include transportation, food, and all the necessary equipment to enjoy the sight of the stars with the naked eye, usually guided by local amateur astronomers. And if you’re interested in a self-guided tour, all you need is a copy of a good southern hemisphere star chart and a blanket. The cities of Vicuña, La Serena and Andacollo have taken steps to attract astronomers by reducing ambient light in the night skies. In 2002, the municipality of Vicuña was the first city to change all its light bulbs in order to reduce light-pollution at night.

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