Chilean telescopes that scan the sky in search of answers to some of the most important questions in the universe have confirmed that they too have fallen victim to the mass disruption caused by the current coronavirus.
Observatories scattered above the coastal town of La Serena and in the dry northern deserts of the Latin nation have closed for the first time since some opened many decades ago, citing the possibility of possible contagion between foreign tourists and scientific staff.
Research teams that frequently operate in shifts moving from their homes in surrounding cities to the observatories and the capital Santiago were also disrupted by cancelations of flights and quarantines and curfews across the nation.
The closures mean possible delays in major work by foreign teams using the telescope-generated content.
Chile is home to 70 percent of the investment in global astronomy. His telescopes have contributed images in recent years to advance hypotheses of the planet and galaxy formation, and have found a number of planets that could help locate life beyond Earth.
Last year, astronomers from Chile played a major role in helping unveil the first-ever image of a black hole.
ALMA telescope operator Sean Dougherty, in the cloudless northern Atacama Desert, located thousands of seas above sea level, said the shutdowns were “unprecedented” but inevitable.
A team is continuing to work at the observatory to keep critical telescope systems running and to make sure we are able to restart operations whenever possible.
Steffen Mieske is head of research operations at 370 miles north of Santiago’s European-run Paranal Observatory, which has been looking at planets beyond the earth and the black hole in the Milky Way.
Following the devastating 2010 earthquake in Chile and during last year’s social unrest, he told Reuters his activities were curtailed but never stopped in 21 years of service.
All the scientists who come to perform observations on visiting ventures, usually from abroad, were canceled during April and May,” he said. “We expect a large number of projects will be affected.”
Karla Pena, assistant professor at the University of Antofagasta in northern Chile, told the newspaper El Mercurio that the closure meant that she had to forgo critical night work at the Atacama Las Campanas telescope.
“The problem is that in some periods of time the objects that I was looking at are just visible,” she said.
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