China has plans for huge telescope in Chile

The proposed viewing platform would be an almost identical copy of a telescope currently operating out of Beijing.

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Scientists from China have expressed a desire to construct a gigantic telescope in Chile’s Atacama Desert.

During a visit to Santiago, the delegation of top Chinese astronomers and officials said Chile would be “an ideal location” for a replica of the US$34 million LAMOST telescope that has been operating out of Beijing’s northern suburbs since 2008.

A telescope on Chilean soil would enable the National Astronomical Observatories of China (NAOC) – a division of the Chinese Academy of Sciences – to obtain high detailed images of the southern skies.

“The LAMOST is a four-meter probing telescope that analyzes stars and galaxies among other objects,” Jinliang Hou from the Shanghai Astronomical Observatory, told La Tercera.

“We think it could even become a six or eight-meter telescope – that all depends on the budget we have but we still have to discuss many of the project details.”

Although concrete plans are yet to be made, the Chinese scientists have already held talks with the European Southern Observatory (ESO) and the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory about possible sites for its proposed project in Chile’s northern desert zone.

Led by China’s vice-minister for science and technology, Chen Xiaoya, the delegation took part in a Santiago workshop organized by Chile’s National Scientific and Technological Research Commission (CONICYT).

The visiting Chinese officials also signed a series of bilateral agreements, including an offer to donate US$750 million worth of scientific equipment to five Chilean universities that were rocked by the February 2010 earthquake.

Under an existing agreement, several Chilean astronomers have gone to Chinese universities to carry out further studies.

“We want to identity those other areas, such as instrumentation and scientific projects, in which Chile and China can work together,” director of CONICYT’s astronomy program, Mónica Rubio, told La Tercera.

“We hope that these discussions will culminate in a Chinese observatory in Chile, something that is part of our roadmap for enhancing national astronomy.”

This post is also available in Spanish