Chile Diary 2: Paranal
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The VLT consists of four 8 meter telescopes that can be used separately or linked together as a giant interferometer

The VLT consists of four 8 meter telescopes that can be used separately or linked together as a giant interferometer

A few days after we visited La Silla we went to the telescopes that defined astronomy in the 2000's: the VLT (Very Large Telescope) at Paranal.

These telescopes are a couple of hours from Antofagasta, a desolate plain utterly devoid of life. The dryness of the area makes Tucson look like an oasis by comparison. Thus the shock of the astronomer's hotel... It is built into the side of the mountain; from the road, all you can see is a small dome:

Entering the astronomer's hotel. The trees are the only vegetation outside for miles and miles...

Entering the astronomer's hotel. The trees are the only vegetation outside for miles and miles...

But once you go through the airlock double-doors, you find yourself in a moist rainforest environment!

To the right of this photo is a lush garden surrounding a swimming pool!

To the right of this photo is a lush garden surrounding a swimming pool!

In fact, the setting is so dramatic, it was used in the James Bond movie "Quantum of Solace"...

But the best part was being in the dome of one of the 8.2 meter telescopes as it was being prepared for observing that night...

The VLT telescopes are too big for mirror covers, so they are tilted to the side when the dome is opened. This panorama gives a sense of the scale

The VLT telescopes are too big for mirror covers, so they are tilted to the side when the dome is opened. This panorama gives a sense of the scale

Br. Guy Consolmagno

About Br. Guy Consolmagno

Brother Guy Consolmagno SJ is Director of the the Vatican Observatory and President of the Vatican Observatory Foundation. A native of Detroit, Michigan, he earned undergraduate and masters' degrees from MIT, and a Ph. D. in Planetary Science from the University of Arizona; he was a postdoctoral research fellow at Harvard and MIT, served in the US Peace Corps (Kenya), and taught university physics at Lafayette College before entering the Jesuits in 1989.

At the Vatican Observatory since 1993, his research explores connections between meteorites, asteroids, and the evolution of small solar system bodies, observing Kuiper Belt comets with the Vatican's 1.8 meter telescope in Arizona, and applying his measure of meteorite physical properties to understanding asteroid origins and structure. Along with more than 200 scientific publications, he is the author of a number of popular books including Turn Left at Orion (with Dan Davis), and most recently Would You Baptize an Extraterrestial? (with Father Paul Mueller, SJ). He also has hosted science programs for BBC Radio 4, been interviewed in numerous documentary films, appeared on The Colbert Report, and for more than ten years he has written a monthly science column for the British Catholic magazine, The Tablet.

Dr. Consolmagno's work has taken him to every continent on Earth; for example, in 1996 he spent six weeks collecting meteorites with a NASA team on the blue ice regions of East Antarctica. He has served on the governing boards of the Meteoritical Society; the American Astronomical Society Division for Planetary Sciences (of which he was chair in 2006-2007); and IAU Commission 16 (Planets and Satellites). In 2000, the small bodies nomenclature committee of the IAU named an asteroid, 4597 Consolmagno, in recognition of his work. In 2014 he received the Carl Sagan Medal from the American Astronomical Society Division for Planetary Sciences for excellence in public communication in planetary sciences.

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