One of the bounties Chile is renowned for internationally is the breadth, clarity and cleanness of its skies, in particular in the northern region. These advantages have allowed Chilean experts to make major contributions to world astronomy.
To enhance these characteristics even more, Chile is competing for the award of the largest telescope in the world, known as the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT), operated by the European Southern Observatory (ESO). This organization devoted a lengthy period of time to studying which would be the most appropriate location for the modern device, which will be used to observe planets with characteristics similar to those of Earth.
Subsequent to this analysis, Chile and Spain are the only countries that are still in the running for the installation of the E-ELT and both have already submitted their final proposals. Chile has proposed the Region of Antofagasta, in the north of the country, and has offered 1401 acres of Cerro Armazones, 13 miles away from the Paranal Observatory in Antofagasta, in addition to other comparative advantages related to the prestige of the country in terms of astronomical research.
“The Chilean proposal will focus on the site on which they are offering to install the telescope, which guarantees cloudless nights and ease of installation. In addition, an analysis and proposal will be developed regarding the electric power connection used to supply Paranal in order to favor its convergence with other top-level centers in the area. We will also look into the matter of Chile’s participation in technological matters in the calls for bids and make suggestions regarding the allotted observation times”, indicated María Elena Boisier, president (a.i.) of Conicyt.
In turn, the director of the Science, Technology, Innovation and Energy area of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Gabriel Rodríguez, highlighted the positive impact this project could represent for Chile. “It is necessary to understand that this isn’t just a specialized project that is in the desert and that will occasionally provide us with a few photographs, but is something that involves the development of the area, tourism, technological development, the possibility of creating business ventures and professional opportunities for operators and engineers. This is a project that goes way beyond astronomy and that is the point we want to make”, said Rodríguez.
It is estimated that the construction of this telescope, with a diameter of 138 feet, will begin at the end of 2011 and will be completed by 2018, with an implementation budget of around US$ 950 million. If Chile is finally awarded the bid, the telescope will allow Chilean astronomers to increase their already important contribution to this science, and will also ensure their position as a world leader in terms of the telescopes installed in its territory.