Chile’s Window to the Heavens

Imagine lying back and looking up to a night-sky filled with more stars than you have ever seen before. You can do this in Chile.  The mountains blocking a significant amount of cloud coverage, the expanse of the Pacific ocean to the west, and the absence of light pollution make the Atacama Desert the perfect location for the study of our universe.

There are many observatories in Chile including the European Southern Observatory  (ESO).  Most of these are off limits to tourist but some do have hours of access.  Additional telescopes are added as the technology improves.  In fact, the ESO just began the construction of an Extremely Large Telescope, referred to in articles as E-ELT.  It will take at least 10 years to finish the construction and will house a telescope as big as a football field and will weight 5,000 tonnes.**  This telescope will produce pictures 15 times sharper than those sent from the Hubble Telescope (in space).

There is an organization representing an amateur and professional astronomers that is available to you on the internet called Slooh.  Their mission is to make the wonders of the Universe available to everyone. Some of the “shows” of astronomy events are free but a subscription is required for admittance to many more resources.  One of those options is the ability to remotely control a telescope.  You get the chance to reserve time on a telescope five times a month for just slightly less than five dollars a month.  I have a subscription but I have not yet taken advantage of the remote control.  I did note though that none of the available telescopes for my membership level are in Chile.  Take a look at this site and watch for upcoming events.  I have watched events on this before at the free level. I believe I watched the most recent Blood Moon.  There are different telescopes that provide views of the occurrence and professionals are on-line discussing the happenings and related material.

Some places on earth are just better for watching the skies.  Cities have too many lights to allow a good view of the sky.  This is called Light Pollution. Go to this site called DarkSiteFinder to see a map that shows the areas of the earth that have light pollution and those that have less.  How far would you have to travel to get to a place with low light pollution?

**(Interesting side note – The USA and Canada use 2,000 pounds as net weight for a ton and is called a “short ton”.  The Long Ton is used in the Imperial system (UK and other English speaking countries) and is equal to 2,240 pounds or 1016 kilograms.  Since the article I referenced for this fact was from the UK, I am to assume the 5,000 tonnes is equal to 11,200,000 (11 million and 200 thousand pounds).

It is Chile!

Everyone should have received their boxes by now.  As I post this month, the items in the box will become much more meaningful.  You should have a Chilean flag, a book, a fidget spinner made of copper, a rainstick, a Lapis stone, and Night Sky playing cards.

Chile is a beautiful country bordered by the Andes mountains on one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other with a small section bordering the South Atlantic Ocean.  North to South the country is 4,270 km (2,653 mi) long.  The width is narrow however with an average width of 110 miles.  At the most narrow point it is only 40 miles wide!

My hint was “you would need to dress for cold weather if we left right now.”  That is because Chile, a part of South America, is in the southern hemisphere.  They are in their cold season when we are in our warm season.  If you look at the way the earth tilts in relation to the sun at this time of the year, you can see why there is this difference in our seasons.

Chile has one of the driest places on earth, the Atacama desert. The mountains are so high that they block moisture-bearing clouds from this desert. Long stretches of rainless periods can pass in the region but when rain comes it can leave the desert floor covered with beautiful Mallow flowers, occurrences that can be many years apart.     imrs.php

Chile has active earthquakes.  The biggest Earthquake of the 20th century occurred in Chile May 22, 1960.  It was so strong that it showed that our whole earth can vibrate like a guitar string.  The tsunamis that resulted from this quake hit Hawaii and Japan.  The waves, traveling 200 miles per hour, landed on Hawaii nearly 15 hours after and Japan 22 hours after the quake.  Can you imagine being a boat at sea and seeing that nearly 90 foot wave coming?  I plan to post an in-depth explanation of the earthquakes and tsunamis this month.

The playing cards you received have constellations on them to remind you that Chile is the best place in the world to view the night skies.  We will travel to the sites of scientific study of Astronomy and learn about their findings.

Every country we have been to has had very unique features….the biggest, the best, the driest,…..  Do you get the feeling that every country has something very special for us to see and learn about?  I do and I can’t wait to see where we go next.