Cities gather us in different ways, we dwell them, walk around its streets and avenues attending our own eagerness. Many cities have rise over us with huge buildings that show the ability of societies to overcome our scale, and so in a display of phenomenal energy, cities keep moving.
Now days, electric light seems to be a primary need for todays society. Cities and their lights shine over the night sky, blinding our eyes of the ordinary exercise of looking to the starry night that practice our ancestors. Those who have been in the Atacama Desert know that once is late night, looking at the stars there is a different experience, from the one we are used to when we look at the stars from our “shining” cities. This thought becomes most significant while we start to think about our everyday experience. Have we lost something in the way?
Our culture as human beings, have always been related to the night sky observation. Today, new planetary systems are discovered weekly, observation tools and instruments are increasingly sophisticated; we can look at the origin of the Universe and make an image of it. We live in a fast and fascinating era in which we can dazzle with images of supernova’s explosions, nebula clouds and faraway galaxies. The understanding of what “surround us” changes radically and Astronomy raises new questions, challenging the limits of our comprehension. Now we can look farther and farther and so wider the horizon becomes.
Facing this prospect, we propose to add different points of view. Contributing to the astronomical reflection from different angles, being the scientific perspective one in many others possible. Because we are interested in poetry, music, art and design, also in casual conversation, laughter, awkwardness and contradictions, in things that move and those who stay quiet, we are interested in large and small questions of humanity.
This first edition of Galatic Magazine is the number cero and has as main subject the Birth, the origin of things and also the origin of this project. This is a starting point of a conversation that we hope will spread in time, and so will convene many voices and many views.
It is not an easy task to know what Mr. Eusebio Lillo was thinking when he wrote this stanza of the Chilean national anthem: “Pure Chile, is you blue sky, / pure breeze crosses you as well / […]”. Nonetheless, it is certain that our country’s blue sky is pure. The atmosphere of our planet, which has so many benefits for life, seems to us full of water vapour and floating dust at many times and in many places. However, the north of Chile is having clearer and clearer days, free of pollution and water vapour. Additionally, the prevailing wind, which comes from the north-west, from “that sea that quietly washes your shore” brings layers of dry and turbulence free air so many of the hills between the rivers Limari and Loa enjoy the clearest view of the Universe.
In 1958 professor Federico Rullant, director of the National Astronomic Observatory, visited the University of Chicago and convinced Dr. Gerard Kuiper that Chilean skies were appropriate for astronomy. Rutllant was convincing enough to make Dr. Kuiper visit Chile and proved that there were many potentially promising places in the country. When he went back to the United States, he sent Dr. Jurgen Stock with the mission of organising a detailed exploration of appropriate places (hill tops over two thousand meters high above sea level). They tried Farellones, Cerro Colorado and Cerro Roble, all of them around Santiago.
By studying the precipitation, they continued searching northwards finally reaching the Elqui valley, where they found Cerro Tololo (Tololo Hill). In 1963 the decision was made in the United States: to build the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory. The universities of Chicago and Texas, which were originally invited by the University of Chile, joined a dozen other North American Universities and created aura (Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy), who finally embarked upon the Cerro Tololo project.
From that point onwards, the following observatories have been installed in the North of Chile: The European Southern Observatory (eso) on Cerro La Silla; Las Campanas Observatory (operated by the Carnegie Institution for Science) on Cerro Las Campanas; the European Southern Observatory on Cerro Paranal (VLT); the Gemini Observatory on Cerro Pachón; and recently the ALMA Observatory on the Chajnantor plateau, 50 km east of San Pedro de Atacama, at five kilometres above sea level. Today we have the highest concentration of telescopes in the Southern Hemisphere and, in a couple of years, we will have more than half of all the telescopes on the planet; particularly when the Giant Magellan Telescope is fully developed, with its 23-meter diameter mirror; the European 40-meter E-ELT telescope on Cerro Armazones; the CCAT radio telescope on Chajnantor, and the 8.4-meter diameter LSST optic telescope with a giant camera of 3200 megapixels on Cerro Pachón.
Over the last decades Chile has proven to be an excellent place for astronomic observation, for the quality of its skies as well as for the number of clear nights (it is said that there are 330 clear night on average on Cerro Paranal). Hills with such a number of clear nights and such quality are nowhere to be found in the world. No less important is the country’s stability and connectivity with the world. We are in a distant place but well-connected. Every year, new astronomic projects want to be developed in our country. Chile already is and surely will continue being the astronomy capital of the world.
Astronomy has become part of Chile’s world image. We are a nation of clear blue skies and our citizens are more and more conscious that we are the best window to the Universe our planet has. That will bring us in the short term a good number of world quality astronomers. A country such as Chile should have 250 astronomers; now there are about 60 of international quality. As citizens become more and more conscious about the importance of astronomy, national public policies will point in that direction in order to make of Chile an astronomically developed country.