Chile’s star-rich skies up there with the best

Men’s Journal magazine has named Chile’s skies among the top ten in the world for stargazing quality.

Chile’s skies have once again been lauded for their stargazing qualities, this time by Men’s Journal magazine.

The magazine included the Atacama Desert among the likes of Hawaii’s Mauna Kea, Namibia’s NamibRand International Dark Sky Reserve, New Zealand’s Aoraki Mackenzie Dark Sky Reserve and California’s Death Valley National Park as some of the top stargazing sites in the world.

Chile’s northern Atacama region boasts virtually cloudless skies for much of the year and is one of the highest, driest areas on the planet — all of which is great news for stargazing as humidity amplifies horizon lighting, blurring celestial objects.

The altitude of the Atacama region is also a plus, often sitting at more than 6000 meters above sea-level with many areas receiving less than an inch of rainfall annually.

Astronomers have been looking forward to 2014 for some time given the number of astronomical events scheduled to take place this year.

There will be a number of meteor showers to look forward to during the second half of the year, while visitors are able to visit Chile’s new astronomy park in the Pampa la Bola in the region of Antofagasta.

“There will be five meteor showers in 2014,” David Azocar, communications officer of the Center for Excellence in Astrophysics and Associated Technologies (CATA), told This Is Chile. “The Aquarids in May, the Orionids in October, the Taurids in the second week of November

Just under half of the planet’s astronomy infrastructure is found in Chile, with this number expecting to increase to 70 percent by 2018. The country’s brilliantly clear skies are also attracting large investments from astronomical agencies the world over. Two of the three next generation, gigantic ground telescopes are due to begin operation in Chile around 2020 — so the future’s looking bright.

Aside from the observatories found in the Atacama Desert, visitors are welcome at Antofagasta’s Paranal Observatory — the site of the world’s largest optical telescope. A number of locations ideal for amateur observation can also be found in and around Santiago, such as Cuesta la Dormida, a mountain located in Parque Nacional Campana just a couple hours from the city, and Farellones, a village and ski resort 22 miles east of Santiago.

“The best places for viewing the heavens are anywhere away from an urban population, as these areas come with a lot of city lights that drown out the light from celestial objects,” James Jenkins, an astronomer at the Universidad de Chile said. “Luckily Chile has many mountainous regions, even within easy reach of the city — getting high up is always an advantage.”