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La Silla is located at the outskirts of the Atacama Desert and is the first ESO location inaugurated 50 years ago in 1969. Several telescopes including also non ESO-telescopes are distributed at 2,400 m altitude.
ESO is currently operating the New Technology Telescope (NTT), a pioneer of optical observations. Its 3.58 m main mirror is “flexible” and its shape is actively adjusted by actuators during observations to preserve the optimal image quality. During the solar eclipse the NTT will observe the sun’s corona. To do that, precise timing is necessary as the instruments can only record the sun during it’s short totality phase. Our sun’s corona is an interesting research object, as we do not totally understand it. For example, we still don’t know why the corona is so hot. The astronomers at La Silla are expecting new insights from this experiment.
The biggest telescope on this mountain is the 3.6 m telescope and is also operated by ESO. With the HARPS (High Accuracy Radial velocity Planet Searcher) instrument the telescope is very successful detecting or confirming Exoplanets. In La Silla Exoplanet findings of Kepler-2 are regularly confirmed through radial velocity measurements of the HARPS instrument.
In comparison to Paranal and Alma, La Silla is smaller and cheaper. But its strength is that new technologies can be more easily tested, which makes it attractive to young astronomers.
The solar eclipse is a unique opportunity to use different specialized instruments to observe different aspects of the sun in the 2 minutes of the totality. But also, Mercury’s Exosphere will be examined. Learn more about the conducted experiments in my previous blog post: https://oewf.org/en/2019/07/meeteso-einstein-relativity-exciting-experiments/
A solar eclipse over La Silla
It’s very rare that a solar eclipse occurs over a standing astronomical facility, therefore ESO opened up La Silla for about 1,000 visitors. Moreover, the President of Chile flew in via helicopter. A logistics challenge, which reminds me a little bit of the Landing Day during our Mars simulations.
At 15:23 local time the first contact happened, that means that the Moon started to move in front of our Sun. About an hour later at 16:23 the Moon covered the Sun completely. What sounds so simple was indeed a very emotional event. Minutes before the totality phase started, the shadow of the Moon arrived. It suddenly got dark, Venus was visible very brightly and the temperature dropped. I had goose bumps. And then the Sun just disappeared and left a “black hole” in the sky. Visible was only the bright light of the sun’s corona. An unbelievable view.
Nach nicht ganz 2 Minute war das Spektakel vorbei, aber wird für immer in meiner Erinnerung bleiben. Sonnenfinsternisse sind ganz besondere Ereignisse, die man sich nicht entgehen lassen sollte.
This article is available in: German
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