Chilean universities sign major astronomy deal with France

Under the arrangement, a high-tech lab will be built on Chilean soil and several new joint research opportunities will be created.

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Three Chilean universities have signed an agreement with France’s National Scientific Research Center (CNRS) that will lead to a series of joint astronomy research projects.

The deal establishes a research body, known as the French-Chilean Joint International Astronomy Unit (UMI-FCA), which will be led by each of the signatories on a 12-month revolving basis over the next four years.

Under the arrangement, researchers from the Universidad de Chile, Universidad Católica and Universidad de Concepción will be able to gain access to telescopes in France, while a new research laboratory will also be created in Chile.

The terms of the agreement pave the way for dedicated funding, permanent staff and a series of joint research initiatives in key areas such as black holes in the center of our galaxy, the origin of jets in massive protostars, the composition of planetary atmospheres, space dust and protoplanetary disks.

“This body will allow top class French researchers to undertake exchange projects here in Chile, working in collaboration with their [Chilean] colleagues and our postgraduate students,” the director of the Universidad de Chile’s Astronomy Department, René Méndez, told El Mercurio.

The head of Universidad Católica’s Astronomy and Astrophysics Department, Andreas Reisenegger, also expressed enthusiasm about the new agreement.

“We are interested in using this new partnership to study the formation of Earth-like planets around stars close to our own Solar System, so that we will be able to look into the remote past, allowing us to understand more about the formation of the earliest stars from distant galaxies,” he told El Mercurio.

The announcement comes at a time when Chile is cementing its place as a pivotal nation in astronomical research.

At the end of September work will begin on the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) radio telescope project in the country’s northern desert and by 2018, it is estimated that 70 percent of global telescope infrastructure will be located in Chile.