ultramarinus – beyond the sea


Directed by Patricio Guzman, documentary Nostalgia de la Luz (Nostalgia for the Light) introduced us to the Very Large Telescope at Paranal in the Atacama Desert a few years ago.  In the film, Guzman on one hand depicts how scientists at Paranal Observatory search for the origin of the universe by looking up to the sky, and on the other hand, how a group of local women search for the remains of their loved ones who were executed under the Pinochet’s regime by looking down into the gravel of the Atacama desert near the Paranal Observatory.  Owned by European Southern Observatory (ESO), Paranal Observatory contains the most advanced telescopes in the world, allowing scientists to obtain HD images of the universe, and study in details the black hole at the very centre of our Milky Way Galaxy.  Name the Very Large Telescope (VLT), the four telescopes at Paranal are the biggest optical telescopes in the world, each with a lens of 8.2m in diameter.  Situated at 2600m above sea level atop Cerro Paranal, the thin air and dry weather allow scientists at Paranal to observe the night sky almost every night of the year.
From online research, we were glad to find out that the ESO offers free-guided tours of the Paranal Observatory every Saturday.  All we needed to consider was to find our own transportation to get there.  With a hired car from Antofagasta, we were able to reach the observatory half an hour before our appointment at 10:00.  Located 120km south of Antofagasta, the journey took us about 2 hours of driving in the Atacama Desert.  The drive was pleasant in early morning.  By the time we stepped out of the car at Paranal, we could immediately feel the heat and strong UV of the sun.  The tour lasted for about 2.5 hours.  We were led by the guide to visit the visitor centre, the interior of one of the four Very Large Telescopes, the central control centre, and the residence for the scientists and engineers.  The guide, who was an astronomer, explained to us in details about the functioning and maintenance of the telescopes.  Inside the telescope, we were fortunate to watch the engineer to test the rotation of the telescope.  The control centre was quite empty while we were there, because most of the staff was asleep in the residence during the day.  Winning numerous design awards a few years ago, the residence building was also interesting to check out.  Inside the building, the swimming pool and greenhouse create a desert oasis in the Atacama.  The building was also featured in one of the James Bond movie a few years ago.
The inspiring visit to the Paranal was definitely a highlight of our journey.  It further opened up our curiosity about the universe and the night sky.  This experience also concluded our journey in the Atacama, and to a larger extent, the Andean highlands of Bolivia, Northern Argentina and Chile.  Tomorrow, we would arrive at Chiloe Island in the Lake District, some 2,100km south of Antofagasta, where Martian landscapes would give way to Alpine scenery.
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Read more on San Pedro de Atacama, 2013 South America
Day 49 – Arrival, San Pedro de Atacama
Day 50.1 – Geyser del Tatio, Atacama Dessert
Day 50.2 – Altiplano Wetland, near El Tatio
Day 50.3 – Machuca Village, Atacama
Day 50.4 – Stargazing, Atacama Dessert
Day 51.1 – Town, San Pedro de Atacama
Day 51.2 – Valle de la Muerte & Cordillera de la Sal, San Pedro de Atacama
Day 51.3 – Valle de la Luna, San Pedro de Atacama
Day 52.1 – Laguna Chaxa, Atacama
Day 52.2 – Lagunas Altiplanicas, Atacama
Day 52.3 – Tropic de Capricorn, Atacama
Day 53.1 – Pacific Ocean, Antofagasta
Day 53.2 – Nan King Restaurant, Antofagasta
Day 54.1 – On the Road, Atacama Desert
Day 54.2 – Paranal Observatory, Atacama Desert

Next Destination – Chiloe Island, Chile
Continuing on our journey from post Day 55.1


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South America 2013 – Our Destinations
Buenos Aires (Argentina), Iguazu Falls (Argentina/Brazil), Pantanal (Brazil), Brasilia (Brazil), Belo Horizonte & Inhotim (Brazil), Ouro Preto (Brazil), Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), Paraty (Brazil), Sao Paulo (Brazil), Samaipata & Santa Cruz (Bolivia), Sucre (Bolivia), Potosi (Bolivia), Southwest Circuit (Bolivia), Tilcara, Purmamarca, Salta (Argentina), Cafayate (Argentina), San Pedro de Atacama (Chile), Antofagasta & Paranal Observatory (Chile), Chiloe (Chile), Puerto Varas (Chile), Torres del Paine (Chile), Ushuaia (Argentina), El Chalten (Argentina), El Calafate (Argentina), Isla Magdalena (Argentina), Santiago (Chile), Valparaiso (Chile), Afterthought

One response

  1. What a remarkable journey to see Paranal Observatory. It is dangerous to drive in the Atacama Desert. Anyway, you made it.

    December 6, 2013 at 1:22 am

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