International astronomy organizations in Chile

The unbeatable quality of the atmosphere motivates organizations all over the world to invest in observing the cosmos from Chilean territory.


The International Year of Astronomy recently commemorated the 400 years since Galileo Galilei began his search into the immensity of space. And the local node in charge of the commemorative activities chose the slogan “Chile, the telescope of humanity” (in Spanish), a name that reflects the importance of the existing installations and those confirmed to be built in the future.

In mid-2010, the European Southern Observatory (ESO) chose the Armazones mountain in the Atacama desert to build the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT), which is scheduled to be completed in 2018. This requires an investment of around US$ 1.3 billion to implement –at 3,000 meters above sea level– a 42-meter diameter mirror that will be four times larger than the largest one existing in the world today.

From the Chajnantor plain, located more than 5,000 meters above sea level, with 66-m antennas of between 7 and 12 meters in diameter, cosmic research of the Atacama Large Millimeter/ submillimeter Array (ALMA) will be set in motion in 2012. Europe, North America and Japan will invest over US$ 1 billion dollars in this project.

Apart from ALMA, ESO currently operates the La Silla and Paranal observatories in Chile. At Paranal, the inter-governmental organization assembled the most modern astronomical complex on the planet: the Very Large Telescope (VLT), made up of four reflective 8-meter plus diameter telescopes and another three mobile auxiliary devices.

The Carnegie Institution for Science has installed itself in the Las Campanas observatory and in early 2009 it agreed with another eight US, South Korean, and Australian partners to build the 25-meter Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT). With an investment of close to US$ 700 million, it is expected to begin activities in 2019.

Likewise, the Cerro Tololo and Cerro Pachon observatories are administered by the National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO), an institution with public and private capitals of US origin based in Tucson, Arizona, and with facilities in Hawaii.

This post is also available in Spanish