Window to the universe

Chile welcomes Chinese astronomers in new partnership

China has chosen Chile, the indisputable astronomy capital of the world, as a platform to conduct astronomical observation.

Friday, September 21, 2012 Category: Technology - Education
An artist’s impression of the European Extremely Large Telescope, which could lead the search for ex An artist’s impression of the European Extremely Large Telescope, which could lead the search for extraterrestrial life. Photo courtesy of the European Southern Observatory (ESO).

Chile’s reputation as the premier location to observe the universe is being further enhanced as China’s growing crop of astronomers have chosen the country as their platform for astronomical research.


Almost half of the world’s research telescopes are found in Chile as the clear, pristine skies of the Atacama desert lend themselves perfectly to the observation of celestial bodies.


Universities and research institutes from around the world have constructed observatories in Chile, under the stipulation that Chile’s 70 local accredited astronomers have access to 10 percent of an observatories viewing hours.


With supply outstripping demand, Chilean astronomers often have a surplus of viewing hours, and Chinese astronomy institutes are set to buy extra viewing hours for the country’s own burgeoning astronomy community.


The fields of theoretical astronomy and astrophysics are replete with Chinese scientists, however due to lack of infrastructure the country has contributed relatively little in the way of observational astronomy. The collaboration with Chile is set to change all that.


Chinese astronomer Dr. Huang Jiasheng feels that the opportunities Chile has to offer his colleagues will be invaluable, especially with access to state of the art technology such as the Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimeter Array (ALMA).


"Even if used for just one day, the data it (the ALMA) collects could be strong enough to do a lot of research,” Jiasheng said. “Superior telescopes can provide powerful data for Chinese astronomers."


Chile’s new partnership with China is yet another positive development in an exciting time for Chilean astronomy. The astronomical community is eagerly anticipating the completed construction of the European Extremely Large Telescope (EELT) in northern Chile’s Antofagasta region.


The EELT will be one of the most powerful telescopes ever made, and will allow astronomers to directly observe the atmospheres of planets outside of our solar system. Scientists will be able to see a given planet has oxygen or ozone (imperative for life as we know it) and will also have the ability to observe the fingerprint for the pigment chlorophyll, which would suggest the discovery of plant life.

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