Astronomy in Chile- The Telescopes
What do palentologists collect? Fossils
What do archeologists collect? Artifacts
What do geologists collect? Rocks and Minerals
What do astronomers collect? Light!
What instrument do astronomers use to collect that light? Telescopes.
This past June, I was accepted to the Astronomy in Chile Educator Ambassador Program and had the amazing opportunity to travel to Chile to learn about the US and international presence of astronomical research being done there. The Astronomy in Chile Educator Ambassadors Program is a collaborative project of Associated Universities Inc., the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, the National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO) and Gemini Observatory. NOAO and Gemini are both managed by Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA).
Something that inspires me still is the immense size of the telescopes! The light gathering power they possess is monumental compared to what our eyes can see. It is for this reason that we find ways to make telescopes bigger and bigger. The more light they gather, the deeper we can see into our universe’s past and uncover its mysteries.
The telescope in the photo above is the Gemini Telescope. It sits on top of the Cerro Pachón mountain in central Chile and neighbors Cerro Tololo, home to the many telescopes of Cerro Tololo Interamerican Observatory. In the photo above, we linked hands to show everyone the immense size of the telescope’s main mirror. Above our heads you see the primary mirror covered for the day.
Here is a short video of a few of the different CTIO telescope domes and side walls opening and rotating. You definitely feel small just being inside these enormous spaces.
Workers prepping the cleaning surface that will hold the primary mirror when is is cleaned.
This so far only covers telescopes that look at specific wavelengths of light other than radio. We also had the chance to visit a radio telescope array at ALMA, the Atacama Large Millimeter Array located in the Chajnantor plateau at 16,000 ft!
Yes, these mirrors and radio wave collectors are THAT big! These amazing technological works of art are the vehicles through which astronomers understand our visible and invisible universe. These enormous eyes scan the skies for varying wavelengths of light and gather it. This is just the first step. Look for future blog posts to learn more about what comes next in the process of understanding our universe.