Chile in the running for yet another amazing telescope

ESO’s Paranal–Armazones site makes shortlist for new international telescope array that could usher in ‘new frontier’ for the observatory.

The ESO hopes to welcome the Cherenkov Telescope Array to its Paranal site in Chile’s Atacama. Photo via ESO.
The ESO hopes to welcome the Cherenkov Telescope Array to its Paranal site in Chile’s Atacama. Photo via ESO.

It is looking very possible that Chile’s Atacama Desert — already home to a number of world-class observatories and ground-breaking astronomical instruments — will be selected as the home for the newest international stargazing breakthrough.

The Cherenkov Telescope Array (CTA) is choosing between the European Southern Observatory’s (ESO) Paranal–Armazones site in Northern Chile and Aar in Namibia for its primary home. The planners hope to select a site by the end of the year.

The CTA is a massive project that entails about 100 Cherenkov telescopes of dishes ranging from 23-meter, 12-meter and 4-meter sizes. They will all work to detect high-energy gamma-rays and Cherenkov radiation emitted by some the largest objects in our universe, including black holes and supernovae.

“Although formal discussions have not yet started, the shortlisting of Paranal-Armazones, as a potential site for CTA, illustrates the excellence of the site and the infrastructure for the Very Large Telescope and European Extremely Large Telescope. If chosen, CTA would take advantage of ESO’s great expertise in ground-based astronomy,” ESO’s Director General, Tim de Zeeuw, said. “We look forward to the discussions with CTA.”

The CTA is a new generation of telescope that could help astronomers and researchers delve deeper into our universe. Put together by an international team of 1000 scientists and engineers from 28 countries and over 170 research institutes, the array would be more than welcome in Chile’s Atacama.

Along with the ESO’s Paranal site, the impressive newly-opened ALMA observatory and the Very Large Telescope (VLT), the observatory is also looking to open the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT), which will become “the world’s biggest eye on the sky.”

Due to its dark skies with almost zero humidity, the unique area is already home to almost half the world’s astronomical infrastructure — a number that is set to double in the next decade.