Chile Announces Proposal for Telescope for Which Spain Is Also Competing

By Dialogo
February 10, 2010



Chile has announced its proposal to become the site for the European
Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT), the world’s largest, for which the Spanish Canary
Islands are also competing, the local press reported.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs expects to submit the proposal, details of
which were announced yesterday in Santiago, to the European Southern Observatory
(ESO) before 15 February, with the Observatory’s response due at the beginning of
March.

The Chilean proposal includes the donation of land on Cerro Armazones, a
mountain in Antofagasta, in the northern part of the country, and the creation of a
protected area that will include not only the region in which the new telescope
would be built, but also Paranal Observatory.

In this way the Chilean government aims to guarantee that mining projects
that might reduce the number of clear nights in the north of the country, which
average 350 a year compared to 280 in the Canary Islands, will not be carried out in
the region.

In addition, with the installation of the E-ELT, the South American country
would consolidate its standing as one of the world’s principal locations for
astronomy, since it already hosts three European Southern Observatory (ESO)
centers.

These are the La Silla Observatory, in the northern region of Coquimbo;
Paranal, about forty kilometers from Cerro Armazones, where the Very Large Telescope
(VLT) was installed; and Chajnantor, fifty kilometers from San Pedro de
Atacama.

In Chajnantor, the ESO is building, along with its international partners,
the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), the world’s largest
astronomy project, to study the coldest and most distant bodies in the
universe.

Another attraction of the Chilean bid consists in improving the
infrastructure in the region, since the region of the Paranal and Armazones
mountains receives energy from neither the Central nor the Northern Interconnected
System.

At the moment, the personnel of the Paranal Observatory use gas to generate
the electricity that supplies the center, but the government is committing itself to
supplying the E-ELT from one of the two systems, thereby reducing its operating
costs considerably.

The Chilean proposal also foresees the possibility of reducing the percentage
of observation hours, now at ten percent, reserved for Chilean scientists at foreign
centers located on Chilean territory.
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