Far out!

Chile to welcome four new astronomical observatories by 2020

New investment will see 70 percent of the world’s astronomical infrastructure stand under Chilean skies.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014  
 Photo courtesy of ESO/ B. Tafreshi Photo courtesy of ESO/ B. Tafreshi

Already a premier location for astronomy, Chile will solidify its place as a global leader in extraterrestrial research with the opening of four new massive observatories by 2020.

With the addition of these telescopes and technology, Chile will officially be home to 70 percent of the world’s astronomical infrastructure. The latest additions will be made possible by an investment of more than US$ 3 billion from various programs and backers.

Among the projects is the Cornell Caltech Atacama Telescope (CCAT), which will be built on the summit of Cerro Chajnantor in the eastern part of the Atacama Desert. Perched 5,600 m above sea level, the proposed 82 foot diameter telescope will “combine high sensitivity, a wide field of view, and a broad wavelength range to provide an unprecedented capability for deep, large-area, multicolor submillimeter surveys,” according to the project’s site.

Also included in the list of new observatories is the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT) designed by the European Southern Observatory (ESO). Set to be the largest telescope in the world, its observing abilities will even rival those of the Hubble Telescope currently in orbit outside of the Earth’s atmosphere. The E-ELT will be built on Cerro Armazones, in Chile’s northern Antofagasta Region.

“The E-ELT will tackle the biggest scientific challenges of our time, and aim for a number of notable firsts, including tracking down Earth-like planets around other stars in the ‘habitable zones’ where life could exist — one of the Holy Grails of modern observational astronomy,” the ESO claims.

Cerro Pachón, in Chile’s Coquimbo region, will be home to the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST). This massive project will incorporate the world’s largest digital camera in order to take unmatched images of the entire night sky.

As the project’s description explains, “The 8.4-meter LSST will survey the entire visible sky deeply in multiple colors every week with its three-billion pixel digital camera, probing the mysteries of Dark Matter and Dark Energy, and opening a movie-like window on objects that change or move rapidly: exploding supernovae, potentially hazardous near-Earth asteroids, and distant Kuiper Belt Objects.”

Also planned for construction in the Coquimbo region, the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT) is the fourth observatory expected to join the many prestigious projects in Chile by 2020. Backed by a consortium of universities and science institutions, the GMT hopes through its unique segmented design to have an unprecedented light gathering ability and a resolution 10 times greater than the Hubble Telescope.

Due to its almost non-existent humidity and clear skies, the northern Chile is the world’s top location for astronomy. These new projects join the already impressive work being done by the many world-class institutions such as the ESO’s Very-Large Telescope (VLT) and the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), both located in the arid Atacama Desert.