Santiago, Chile from San Cristobal hill. 5,000 meter peaks dominate the background. Day trips from the city to ski country are easy. The world class resort of Portillo is not much farther away.
Top of San Cristobal hill.
Our living quarters, colored to match the land.
So far, two roll off roof observatories. Eventually we hope they will be fully robotic and capable of remote operation over the Internet. (But we need a better Internet feed, among other things.)
This satellite Internet feed keeps us connected to the world, but it's too slow and expensive for remote observatory operations.
This may be the dustiest place I've visited...and my shoes will never look this white again. By the end of the day they were completely brown.
Steve Barnes (Canada) cooks a better breakfast than I do (which isn't saying much), but he makes good omlettes! He was the first to fly down here...with five pieces of luggage. Steve runs the logistics and planning aspect. We still need more stuff, and he'll probably be back in January with another load of equipment to install, test, and integrate.
Arto Oksanen (Finland) is heading up the science data collection operation. He's also got a background in IT...vital for this job. Our kitchen is not a comfortable place to eat - it's a makeshift observatory control center.
Broken cable (largely our fault) in one of the robotic mounts. 'Same day' Fedex delivery to this part of the world takes close to a week. For now we have to manually control this mount during initial alignment and any meridian flips.
What is Arto doing? We determined if we could erect a 10 meter tower with a radio/line of sight Internet link to the village of San Pedro de Atacama, several kilometers away. Some PVC pipe, a web cam, extension cables, laptop, and a convenient tree to support the flimsy pole...showed that we should be able to set up an Internet link this way.
Alain Maury (France) has lived here four years, is married to a Chilean woman, and has children...in for the long haul...and has established an astronomy tourism operation. This is his main telescope field, and he's expanding and improving it for the future. He's a valuable resource to help us set up the robotic observatories, and lives only 100 meters away.
A blacktop road that snakes its way up this slope? It's a pass that gets you across the Andes and into neighboring countries. The pass tops out at around 4,400 meters.
'Downtown' San Pedro de Atacama. The locals want the streets to remain unpaved to retain its rustic charm as a tourist destination.
The town square that is next to the church has shade trees, and feels very welcoming to dusty, thirsty tourists.
We visited a salt flat lagoon - Laguna Cejar. Snow melt water runs down the Andes into this valley, but there is no further drainage to the Pacific. The water evaporates in the desert air and the salt stays behind. I'm surprised that so much plant and animal life can live in a place with saturated salt water. (Tourists can swim in the lagoon...float high in the very dense salt water.)
Licancabur volcano (about 19,000 high) is the symmetrical cone that dominates the eastern horizon. We see it every day and still stare in wonder. Here it's reflected in the salt lagoon.
The center of one of the lagoons is very deep (the turquoise water appears bottomless, yet it's rather transparent), and we're standing on salt ledges that overhang the deep spot.
These lizards blended in very well to the salt. When motionless they were hard to see. Their motion gave their position away.
The flamingos never let us get very close.
Dust devils are numerous in the hottest hours of the day. Near sunset a wind from the west kicks up, and it dies down shortly after sunset. So far, nights have been calm...good for observing.
This road leads to the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA). When completed it will be the largest radio telescope operating at millimeter wavelengths. It needs to be sited high in dry air so that less atmosphere absorbs the faint radio signals...around 17,000 feet. The facility near the desert floor is an assembly point for the many radio dishes...then they will be transported up the mountain for final placement. (It would be too difficult to do much assembly work in the high thin air...better to do that at 10,000 feet.)
High volcanoes (5,000 - 6,000 meters) are visible up and down the Andes. Some of them are white with snow...or sulphur deposits. Winter can be especially beautiful here wen the snow level approaches the desert floor (8,000 feet).
Sunset on Licancabur volcano. It's the last to catch the sun's rays.
At this time of year, at local noon, the sun is at the zenith! No shadows! It makes for very ´flat´ looking mountian photos. But when the air is transparent the colors of the volcanoes can be striking.
Dust devils are common in this hot season. Wearing polarized sunglasses helps darken the sky and shows just how many dust devils are active at one time. (The local name for dust devils is literally ´devils tail´).
Because this is a tourist town, the food is good no matter what restaurant you choose. None of the places we visited had roofs...partial cover at best...to let in the sunlight and provide an open air ambiance. Some places had much of the dining area open to the sky, and in cooler months they light fires to provide warmth for the diners.
´Bolivian winter´ was developing as December wore on. To the east, largely out of our sight, was humidity, rain, clouds. Sometimes some of this weather system would try and push west over us, but most of the time it was only a small peek of clouds in the extreme distance.
A heavy CCD camera, and a focuser that needed a stronger motor. What to do? Add springs to reduce the load? Spings...in the Atacama Desert? Some dumpster diving provided a length of old bungee cord. Pieces of the rubber sheeting inside were an ungly repair...but it allowed us to operate the equipment properly until proper spare parts could arrive.
This place gets warm. The mirror would start out at sunset at 35C (not farenheit). Running the fan all night would eventually get the mirror to equilibrate...some time after midnight. Ambient temperature would drop to about 5C. This place has the largest temperature swing I´ve ever experienced.
We need to boost fan capacity for this locale...the mirror is 3 - 5C warmer than ambient air for most of the night. This does not allow for good local seeing and tight star images.
After leaving the Atacama Desert I passed through Santiago, Chile. No plane was available that day to continue on...so I spent the day walking around the city center. This is the Plaza de Armas...which dates back to the founding of this city in the 16th century. Today it´s a mix of new and old.
In a shady spot in the Plaza de Armas...a long line of tables is set up...to conduct chess matches.
Some of Santiago´s architecture reminds me of a cooler, wetter climate, but it belies the various populations that emigrated here over the country´s history.
Exterior of the Museo de Bellas Artes.
Interior of el Museo de Bellas Artes.