STARGAZING IN CHILE
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Given its dry climate, clear skies, and a dangerously thin layer of ozone, Chile is home to half a dozen or more of some of the most powerful telescopes on the planet. Time on these monsters has been purchased into your great-grandchildren’s lifetimes by Oxford, MIT, Caltech and other big institutions, whose brainiac post-doctorate candidates comb the night sky for clues about our universe, and earn some Nobel Prizes along the way.
Because the cosmos does not discriminate and shines down on us all, those without the academic or monetary horsepower to compete with Ivy League cosmologists are not completely out of luck. Five or six hours north of Santiago, in the southern fringe of the Atacama desert, there lies the Ruta de Las Estrellas, or “Route of the Stars”. Dotted along this little highway are many smaller observatories that mere mortals like yours truly can visit.
We chose the Mamalluca Observatory for no particular reason. An hour from our beach headquarters at La Serena, its modest 10″ telescope was the biggest I had ever looked through. Aimed at one of the Magellanic Clouds, I was able to view this dwarf galaxy that lies a few hundred thousand light years from earth with jaw dropping clarity. (Some perspective: The moon is 250,000 miles distant. Our sun is 93 million miles away. A single light year is six trillion miles)
We had brought along our own astronomical binoculars, and were able to see the Orion Nebula (1,300 light years away) and virtually the entire set of the constellations of the zodiac. During a lecture in Spanish I couldn’t grasp, I left the auditorium and stole the following photos.
I like peeking at the stars once in a while. It reminds me of the insignificance of this little rock we ride around the sun, and those who inhabit it.
(P.S. You don’t have to go to Chile to photograph the stars. Anybody with a tripod and an SLR can take photos like these. Message me for the easy way I did it)
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