Chile bestows highest honor on international astronomer

Massimo Tarenghi, former ESO representative in Chile, awarded the Grand Cross, the Foreign Ministry’s highest honor.


World-class astronomer Massimo Tarenghi dedicated 35 years of his career to the construction of major telescopes in Chile and promoting the wonder and discoveries of our ever growing universe. For this invaluable service, the Italian scientist was award the Grand Cross, highest rank of the Bernardo O’Higgins Order, by the Chilean Ministry of Foreign Affairs, last month.

«I’d like to thank you for this great honor that has been bestowed upon me and also express my gratitude to all the people who have made me feel so close to this country,» Tarenghi said during upon accepting the award.

The award ceremony, held on May 10 in Santiago, was attended by an array of government officials and diplomats, the honor being given by Chile’s Foreign Minister Alfredo Moreno.

«Massimo is not only a scientist, an outstanding professional and an entrepreneur, but also a friend who, over the years, has become a great promoter of our country,” Minister Moreno said during the event. “With his energy, experience and hard work, he has contributed to the process of making public the virtues of Chile.”

The esteemed astronomer’s work in Chile was largely focused on the major construction of the European Southern Observatory’s (ESO) most important telescopes located in Chile’s Atacama Desert. The projects Tarenghi oversaw as the ESO’s representative in Chile include the New Technology Telescope (NTT) at La Silla, the Very Large Telescope (VLT) on Cerro Paranal, and the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) on the Chajnantor Plateau. These technological marvels take advantage of the clear skies of the Atacama, known to be one of the best places on Earth for astronomy.

This is not the first major recognition of Tarenghi by Chile’s highest officials. In October of 2012 the Italian born astronomer was granted Chilean nationality by special grace by the country’s senate in recognition of his major contributions to science and to Chile since becoming an international staff member at the ESO in 1979.

«To be given Chilean nationality by special grace is something that has happened before, but to grant this to a scientist is something very unusual in our culture,” Chilean Senator Juan Pablo Letelier said in October. “Moreover, this is the first time that a representative from an international organisation has received this recognition for his notable contribution to the country.”

Tarenghi served as the ESO representative in Chile until March 2013, marking over 30 years of work dedicated to furthering astronomy and science in Chile.