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The astro-dweeb has just spent a week observing in Chile. He had a terrible trip back with canceled and delayed flights.  During an unscheduled stopover in Miami he had plenty of time to sort through the photos taken with his new camera and to outline a message for me.  Click on a photo a couple of times if you want to see the full sized version of anything.

[Edited to add: To reach Las Campanas one drives about 75 miles north of La Serena on the Pacific Coast Road.  It quite quickly turns into desert once you leave the outskirts of the city.  From the turnoff to the telescopes is a 45 minute drive on a dirt road up the mountain.]

QUOTE:   My chariot.  Just landed at La Serena Chile after 22 hours of travel.  I have now flown more than 2 million miles!

.  A military helicopter?  I have not previously seen a helicopter at the little La Serena airport.

Dogs like to find any corner for a snooze. There are many seemingly friendly dogs running the streets.  The dogs around the La Serena airport know not to go inside the terminal.  

CTIO offices in La Serena.  CTIO is the headquarters for the American Government southern hemisphere optical observatories.  Essentially all large southern hemisphere telescopes are in Chile because the Chilean coastal mountains provide better "seeing" and more clear nights than any place else.  The European Southern Observatory (ESO) maintains two observing sites in Chile, including four 8-m telescopes. Two of the three proposed "next generation" telescopes, the European Extremely Large Telescope (ELT) and the international Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT), will be built in Chile.

Condos just beyond the CTIO offices.

The climate in La Serena is very much like San Diego. San Diego is at 32 degrees north, La Serena is at 32 degrees south, both with long stretches of Pacific beaches.

IMG_0277.JPG  Another door step, another seemingly friendly dog. 

Pisco Sours are the national drink of Chile.  This restaurant is right on the beach.  I suggest ordering the catch of the day.

  The population of La Serena is about 100,000. This supermarket is better than any around where we live in Washington DC.  The worst supermarket in La Serena is about on par with the best supermarket  in DC.


Still in the supermarket.  A $6 bottle of Chilean wine is at least as good as $20 bottle of California wine, maybe better.  I am sure this has nothing to do with the fact that the Americans and Europeans put all their large southern hemisphere telescopes in Chile.  Carmenere is a lovely plumy varietal that is a specialty of Chile. 

Like southern California, foggy mornings in La Serena are very common.

Heading out of La Serena on a bus:


Fog plays by its own rules.

The turn off for the La Silla and Las Campanas Observatories.


The "space pods" are the two 6.5-m Magellan Telescopes at Las Campanas.  To the left are a cluster of telescopes ranging from 0.8-m to 2.5-m.  At 8,000 feet, Las Campanas is high desert.

Las Campanas is very isolated.  It is not on the power grid.  Electricity is generated on site.  Water is heated with this solar array. 

Astronomers at work.  Dim your headlights! 

The 1-m telescope. 

  A series of telescopes along a ridge. 

The Polish 1.3-m Ogle Telescope.  This telescope has made most of the micro-lensing discoveries.


The duPont 2.5-m Telescope.  This telescope was completed in 1977 and was the first major telescope on the mountain.

If you love high desert, Las Campanas is the place for you.  The tiny white dot in the distance is La Silla, part of the European Southern Observatory.

The cottages in the foreground are for special people, like the observatory director.

More high desert.  The peaks in the background are the Andes.

Astronomers hate these beautiful sunsets.  The only good cloud is a non-existent cloud. 

On the other hand sunrise in the high desert is almost worth staying up all night to see.

  This is one of a globe spanning series of telescopes that are used to study solar oscillations.  These 5 minute oscillations reveal information about the interior of the Sun such as temperature and pressure that can not be obtained in any other way.  These studies have greatly contributed to the solar neutrino problem and the discovery that neutrinos have mass and can change form.

Semi-wild goats, donkeys, and horses roam the mountain. While I did not see any on this trip, I did find remnants of their recent passage.

Another sunset.  Beyond the telescopes the coastal mountains and the Pacific are visible.

Sunset facing the Andes.  The scenery looks like a fake backdrop for a western movie.


Sunset on the Magellan telescopes:

Fog at the La Serena airport.  This fog prevented LAN airlines from landing for 6 hours.  As you can see, there is a lot of blue sky.  A LAN employee claims the fog is an act of god, it is not their responsibility for delayed  flights.  I pointed out that it is foggy like this at least 100 days a year, and that LAN could easily install 1980s technology to allow their planes to land.  LAN is the only airline at this airport!  

  This post is about 10 feet from the Lan ticket counter at the La Serena airport.  I watched a middle aged woman walk her little Scottish Terrier to this post and then looked on admiringly as he raised his leg and left this little trail.  I wish I had the camera at the ready then!  A door to the outside was 20 feet away, but that was clearly too much trouble.  Small children and babies were crawling all over the floor throughout the day.

Another little "issue"  I had with the LAN monopoly at La Serena. There is a strong WiFi radio carrier, but there is no actual internet connection.  Another sleeping dog outside the terminal – perhaps the lady would not take her little terrier out to be a snack for this guy.


I did eventually get home with many more photos and scientific data to share with Emjay.


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34 responses

  1. Looks great! He certainly gets to go to some interesting places. My 6yo son is really interested in astronomy (I just bought him some really cool solar system pyjamas from Target) so might have to get some tips from your husband as to where I should take my son in Sydney/NSW.

  2. Totally enjoyed this! Some of the scenery resembles New Mexico, which as you know has the National Radio Astronomy Observatory and some of the nation's best skies, not to mention the crash sites of alien craft but that's another post. You'd have to really like your job for the kind of physical isolation involved. Bad sunset, bad — not too often one hears that! lol

  3. How very fascinating. Beautiful sunset photos. It seems like the dogs outside the airport behave better than the clouds or the the passenger and her dog on the inside.

  4. Looks like a nice place to photography and If I remember correctly there is tourist set up telescopes for them to view the night sky as long as he enjoyed himself then it is a worth while trip not sure if I could really get into looking that close at the night sky but its a never know tell one try's it

  5. Very interesting. Perth is at 31 point something degrees south, but its scenery doesn't look much like La Serena, apart from the wide expanse of blue sky.

  6. That is an awesome photo essay! Chile has long been on my list and those photos only serve to move it higher to the top. And the commentary is excellent, too! Glad he made it home safely if not entirely directly.

  7. Thanks! The entire mini-tour was really enjoyable. My "astro-dweeb" inclinations, of course, had me paying particular attention to the observatory site. The supermarket looked great… much like what I see here in Ohio but brighter and cleaner! — JG

  8. OH. MY. GOODNESS.What amazing and wonderful pictures!!!!!! WOWEEEE.thank you so much for sharing these!The fog shots are just gorgeous…the supermarket? Yow.The land, the dogs, everything, REALLY REALL Y great!!!I'm glad he got home OK…too bad about the icky return trip.

  9. He loves it when kids show an interest in what he does. If you ever get out near Coonabarabran the visitor centre at the Anglo Australian telescope is really interesting. You could always take him for a drive over to the CSIRO at Epping – there are small radio telescopes there – it is not open to the public but you can see the telescopes from the road (and during work hours the gates are open).Sydney Observatory (in the Rocks) has birthday parties for kids up to 12 – they sound great.

  10. He is getting better with the little camera. I was really interested to see where he goes in Chile. The landscape is a bit more barren than I imagined.

  11. The landscape is pretty wild isn't it! One would want to remember their drink bottles on a hike! He has been to Socorro National Radio Astronomy Observatory as a visitor – New Mexico is on my list of states to visit.

  12. There is a visitor center for the telescope in Hawaii and for the one that he goes to in Coonabarabran (Australia). As long as he gets data on a trip, he is happy.

  13. The beaches of La Serena are supposedly beautiful – perhaps next time he will spend more time in the city and take photos to show us. This time he only had one night in La Serena before being driven north to Las Campanas (and the drier landscape).

  14. Thank you. He normally flies La Serena-Santiago- Buenos Aires-DC but after a delay and cancellation he was flown to Miami – not nearly as exciting as being stranded in Buenos Aires! LOL.

  15. The observatory site looks very isolated – no light pollution and the seeing is good. I think he was very taken with the alcohol section of the supermarket! He brought home a couple of bottles of the Carmenere – very nice!

  16. If I never step foot again into New Mexico, I won't cry. If you do make it, I highly recommend a trip to Las Vegas (NM). It's way out there and one of the coolest ol' little towns this lifetime traveler's been in. Skip Santa Fe. Overpriced and over-attitude.

  17. You mean there is more than one Vegas? Wikipedia makes it sound like quite an interesting place to visit – thanks for the suggestion. And I see that No Country for Old Men was mostly filmed there.

  18. My father, too a consummate traveler, and I share a passion for little-known places off the beaten track. Way off the beaten track. Like Las Vegas, NM. It’s not to everyone’s liking but we loved it; in fact, he’s the one who told me about it and now I pass it on. BTW, that Plaza Hotel in the Wikipedia picture? – I had an amazing spirit story my one night in the bar there around Halloween. Sorry about the bold, Vox isn't letting me unbold!

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