What is the first thing that comes to mind when someone mentions Chile? Many people come up with answers like “wine”, “salmon”, “copper”, “fruit”, “Easter Island moai statues”, “volcanic eruptions”, even “earthquakes”. Not many immediately quote “star gazing”. Until now!
Astronomy has quickly become the most talked about scientific practice in Chile by the international press. According to a study by Imagen de Chile*, of the total news involving science and technology in Chile shared by international press during 2015, 60% was about physical science and astronomy. Much of the reason for this is due to recent discoveries such as traces of an ocean on Mars, where instruments located in northern Chile were fundamental in the study of the planet.
The skies are alarmingly alive at night here in Chile. One of the main reasons is due to lack of light pollution and low humidity. These perfect conditions have given rise to the investment in a dozen or so observatories over the last few decades.
Astronomers around the world would give anything to come to Chile to spend some time gazing at the constellations, especially now as Chile is being cited as the pole of world astronomical development. This is in turn inciting more and more media interest, and of course foreign investment. It is not just astronomers themselves who have Chile on their bucket list. Travelers from across the world consider the emergence of “astrotourism” as a value added reason to visit. In places like San Pedro de Atacama in the north you can take a guided nighttime star gazing tour where you can get your hands on huge telescopes getting you closer than you may even have imagined to planets in our universe. And they even throw in hot chocolate too!
You can also visit the main observatories to get a real insight into how the major telescopes work and what they can show us. Here are just a few to get you hooked!
Cerro Tololo : 87 km to the east of La Serena and 2.200 masl. 8 telescopes and a radiotelescope. Guided tours are available in English and Spanish and last for about 2 hours. Prior reservation necessary at least a month in advance.
La Silla : 156 north of La Serena and 2.400 masl, La Silla has 14 optical mirror telescopes up to 3,6 meters in diameter, and a 15 meter radiotelescope. Tours last for 3 hours and must also be reserved at least one month in advance.
Mamalluca Tourist Observatory : Then there is also the municipal Cerro Mamalluca Observatory, the first project of its kind in Chile. Mamalluca opened as an experiment 16 years ago, and their guides claim that there has never been one day since opening without buddy star gazers eagerly waiting for the spherical roof of the observatory to slide open and reveal the secrets of the night sky! Prior reservation only.
Pangue Tourist Observatory : 18 km from Vicuña and also close to La Serena. Astro Tours last for 2 hours and real aficionados can use the own telescopes and stay as long as they like. Prior reservation advisable.
ALMA Observatory : A $ 1 billion dollar radio telescope is located at this observatory near San Pedro de Atacama which constantly probes it's 66 antennae into the skies searching for the cosmic origins of life. Prior reservation necessary.
Andean Astronomical Observatory : This option is close to Santiago, on the road out to Farellones ski field. Located at 1.240 masl the main dome has three telescopes, an observation terrace and meeting rooms. 9 telescopes are available and can also be used during the day as three of their solar telescopes have Hydrogen Alfa filters allowing you to safely observe the sun. Prior reservation advisable.
With this impressive amount of infrastructure already available in Chile, it is no surprise that figures state that by 2020, Chile will host 70% of the world's astronomical infrastructure.
Down here in the south, admittedly we cannot offer huge observatories like those in the north, but we do have overwhelmingly impressive star studded night skies that light up the lakes below them creating reflections that defy all logic and challenge our existing definition of beauty. This panoramic view over Lake Villarrica is taken from the roof terrace of Lake Lodge, and can also be enjoyed from the private terraces of all our rooms. We don’t want to spoil the surprise by adding a photo of the star punctuated sky here, but we do invite you to book now here and come and see for yourself!
We look forward to welcoming you at Lake Lodge!
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*Imagen de Chile has the role of promoting the image of Chile at international level. The study mentioned in this article considers 147 media from 25 countries during the whole year of 2015.
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