Other than the usual ones, we have “some nights”, full of fantasies just for the stars lovers, the Atacama Desert in Chile is the ideal place for these memorable moments. You may not be a fan of stars, believe me, you don’t want to miss such moment when in Atacama, especially with the Astro-tourism sites within your reach. Here are a few details about the ‘whys’ and ‘hows’ of stargazing in the Atacama.
San Pedro de Atacama, a home away from home for Stargazers
First, the Atacama Desert is the second-driest place on the earth after the North pole. The region hardly receives any rainfall (records show that annual rainfall received in the area is less than a half an inch). Here exist riverbeds that have been dry for more than 1,200 years.
The dryness of the area and an altitude of about 8,000 feet, makes the night and day skies very clear. Normally, the presence of pollutants in the skies makes it difficult for one to clearly view the skies. However, the clear skies and high altitude of Northern Chile is perfect for stargazing.
Secondly, there are a bunch of leading observatories in the world that have pitched camp in the Atacama Desert in Chile. Even NASA runs some of its Mars-based experiments in the desert. Some of the best international observatories include the Paranal and the Alma.
The Paranal Observatory is a special project of the European Southern Observatory. It has a collection of very powerful telescopes that give an amazing view of the deep skies. You can view constellations such as the Orion and open clusters of stars at a very close distance. The Observatory hosts free public tours every Saturday night. However, you must make a reservation because of the often-high number of visitors.
The Alma, or Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimeter Array, as it is formally known, is a new and modern observatory in the region. Sitting at an altitude of about 9,500 feet, it offers some of the best views of the deep skies to professional Particle Physicists and the general Stargazer.
There is a visitors’ center at the Operations Support Facility where people can gaze at the stars and interact with the staff. You can also visit the hangar where the large antennas of the telescope are repaired.
Interestingly, Alma uses a radio telescope and not an optical telescope as it is the norm. Optical telescopes allow observers to stargaze at night only. Moreover, the success of the stargazing experience, when you depend on an optical telescope, depends on the nature of the skies. There are many a night when it becomes very windy and the skies delay clearing up. thus, you must wait for the right time before you can gaze at the starts using an optical telescope.
However, a radio telescope, like the one used at the Alma observatory, allows you to gaze at the stars in broad daylight. The combination of several antennas gives rise to a 10-feet long telescope that allows observers to have a spectacular view of some amazing astronomical features like Chile’s Valley on the Moon and Jupiter’s four moons.
Apart from the moon and the planets, you can have a clear view of some of the most amazing features like globular clusters of stars. The Alpha Centauri is one of the most common globular clusters of the stars which you can see clearly using the telescope.
Where to Stay During your Tour
From affordable Atacama vacation rentals to the best apartments in San Pedro de Atacama, you cannot run out of options of where to stay when you visit. Most of the establishments have been designed to cater for the high number of tourists in the region. You can check with your tour company for specific plans and the rates. Also, your tour company will help you to book a visit to one of the leading observatories in the region.
Interestingly, you can still have an exhilarating experience by simply sitting outside your hotel room at night and gazing at the skies. Most accommodation facilities have special terraces and balconies to allow visitors to do just that: stargaze. But then you will have to be contented with a minimal view of the stars, the moon and a few planets that are visible to the naked eye.