La Silla Observatory: World-Class Astronomy in the Atacama Desert

While you may be planning to attend Spanish classes in Chile strictly to learn the language, there is also a great deal that you can learn about science when you are in the country. La Silla Observatory is a fascinating institution that is operated by the European Southern Observatory, or ESO, and it is based in Chile. La Silla is quite notable as being one of the largest observatories in the Southern Hemisphere. The reason that it is called "La Silla" is that those words translate to mean "the saddle," and people say that the observatory is shaped like a saddle.

The La Silla Observatory is located in the outskirts of the Chilean Atacama Desert. Therefore, when you learn Spanish in Chile, it won't exactly be nearby. The reason that the observatory is essentially in the middle of nowhere is because in order to receive the most accurate results, it needed to be based far from light pollution. The Atacama Desert also has the advantage of nearly 300 days per year of completely clear skies. Scouts carefully chose this site in the 1960s, and in 1969 President Eduardo Frei Montalva inaugurated the site as operational. Besides telescopes, the site also includes hotels, workshops, and dormitories for staff and visitors.

Currently, the European Southern Observatory operates three optical and near infrared telescopes at La Silla including the 3.6 m telescope, the New Technology Telescope and the 2.2-m Max-Planck-ESO telescope. There are other telescopes hosted as well including ones that aren't operated by ESO, such as the Rapid Eye Mount Telescope and the TAROT Telescope. All of these telescopes are based on state of the art technology.

La Silla's investment in cutting-edge technology has paid off, as many important discoveries have been made at the facility. About 300 publications are based on the site's work each year. For example, telescopes from La Silla linked gamma ray bursts with massive star explosions. The La Silla Observatory also closely studies the recent supernova SN 1987A.

Since the observatory is about 600 km north of Santiago, it is possible to visit the site when you learn Spanish in Chile. However, it is important to realize that La Silla Observatory is typically only open to engineering students and professors. A special tourism program organizes these tours, which take about 3 hours.

Even if you aren't able to visit La Silla when you learn Spanish in Chile, the country has other facilities where you can view telescopes. One excellent place to visit is the Santiago Museum of Science and Technology. This museum has a newly renovated Astronomy Hall, which is supported by the ESO. When you are not busy with your Spanish classes in Chile, this popular museum can be easily found in the Quinta Normal Park. It is important to get a well-rounded experience during your stay in Latin America, and understanding more about the country's scientific community will assist you to do just that.

Latin Immersion offers Spanish classes in Chile year-round, which include cultural exposure through activities and family homestays. To learn Spanish in Chile visit =>

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