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Comet ISON Tour November 11, 2013, Las Campanas Observatory

Sunrise in Pisco Elqui Chile

After a good night’s sleep at El Jardin Secreto, I had breakfast in the owners’ kitchen, along with Bob Berman and new friends from Turkey and elsewhere. Anahata and Julia were cordial hosts. Anahata was fluent in English, Julia spoke Spanish. They gave me permission to take this picture:

After breakfast at El Jardin Secreto

The conversation was wide ranging and Bob and Anahata had a number of interesting stories. They both shared their story of flight from urban areas. It’s a story I’m familiar with having gone from Los Angeles California to Juneau Alaska by way of two intervening states. Though unlike them, sometimes I think I’d like to live in a metropolis again. Too soon it was time to leave and board our bus for the Las Campanas Observatory, a 2.5 hour ride away.

Las Campanas Observatory

On the way to Las Campanas, we stopped at our hotel in La Serena, the excellent Hotel Club de La Serena. During this stop we had a catered lunch, but did not check into the hotel. We had a very specific time to be at the world class observatory, so we had to adhere to their schedule and not our preferences. The lunch was excellent and so was the conversation. I sat with a neurochemist and a dedicated amateur astronomer who was part of an international occultation network. We didn’t talk much about these subjects. I just wanted to give you a sense of the great company I was in.

We drove through part of the Atacama desert to get to Las Campanas, but I’m going to save pictures of the desert for the next blog entry.

When we got to Las Campanas, our first stop was their tiny 2.5M/100 inch telescope:

100 inch telescope at Las Campanas Observatory

Building for 2.5 Meter DuPont telescope.

100 Inch telescope at Las Campanas Observatory-001

2.5 Meter Dupont telescope on equatorial mounting.

Our main guide for this part of the tour was Oscar Duhalde, Magellan Instrument Specialist. Oscar Duhalde is also a co-discoverer of Supernova 1987A, the first naked-eye supernova in over 400 years.

After talk about both the telescope and his part of the supernova discovery, we got back on the bus to travel to the other side of the facility to see the Magellan telescopes:

Berman leads the way

Bob Berman (right) herds cats astronomy tourists. I’m sorry for the possibly identifying photos of my tour companions here, but this photo is pretty integral to the story.

Magellan Telescope Mirror-001

Magellan Telescope Mirror-005

Views of the one of the 6.5 Meter Magellan telescopes.

While we were learning about the Magellan, we got the treat of hearing from pioneer extrasolar planet discover Paul Butler. He was at Las Campanas for a spectrographic observing run. He gave us a short history of his work and took our questions with patience. He has reason to believe that the Doppler method of detecting planets can be further refined to detect Earth sized worlds. It was rarefied talk in a rarefied atmosphere.

Las Campanas is a working observatory, so we needed to leave after our allotted hour and a half. Then it was back through the desert. It was a long drive from the observatory but Bob helped us pass the time with a no holds barred Q&A session. Due to the driving noise we had to pass notes up to the front, then Bob would answer over the PA system. Actually, it’s possible this great Q&A took place on the way to the observatory. This is why if you’re going to write about your wonderful vacation you shouldn’t wait a month.

More about the desert and the end of a long but good day in my next Chile post.


2 Responses

  1. […] noted in my last entry on Chile, visiting the Las Campanas Observatory required travel in the Atacama desert, as did a few of our […]

  2. […] Comet ISON Tour November 11, 2013, Las Campanas¬†Observatory […]

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