GoChile: Slovenia’s First Telescope Travels to Chile to Avoid Light Pollution at Home

By , 20 Feb 2020, 17:19 PM Lifestyle
El Sauce Observatory, Chile El Sauce Observatory, Chile Screenshot of the embedded video

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In April 2020 a Slovenian telescope will be placed at 1560 metres in the Atacama Desert in Chile. This will be part of GoChile, an educational joint project of the University of Nova Gorica and the astronomical journal Spika. Although the telescope will be controlled from Slovenia, it’s being placed in Chile because the desert is the ideal location for astronomical research and photographing space.

In 2008 Dark-Sky Slovenia was formed in Slovenia to raise awareness about the problem of light pollution and its negative impact on astronomical observation, human health and the environment in general. About 20 observation stations listed on the Dark-sky Slovenia website report on night sky observation disturbances caused by illuminated churches, gas stations, streetlights and ever brighter towns and cities.

One of the earlier studies (published in 2001) on light pollution at the astronomical observatory of Jožef Stefan Institute at Črni Vrh, which specializes in the search for asteroids and comets, located at about 40 km from Ljubljana and about the same distance from Trieste, reports that Ljubljana contributes most to light pollution, while the lights of Trieste, Nova Gorica, Gorizia and Črni Vrh are very influential as well. With the equipment used in the measurements, the marginal luminosity of the stars in the direction of Ljubljana decreased to 0.15 magnitude, which means about a 10% reduction in the number of stars detected.

Although in 2007 the government adopted the Decree on the Limit Values of Light Pollution – due to Slovenian astronomers’ persistent complaints –  which introduces some regulations and restrictions on light emissions, the problem continues. According to Dark Sky Slovenia’s website, the problem is not in that the streetlights exist but rather that they are not efficiently designed to direct the light at the intended object of illumination. 

In order to avoid such problems, the astrophysicist Andreja Gomboc, professor of astronomy at the University of Nova Gorica and Matej Mihelčič of the astronomic journal Spika, decided to launch the GoChile project, in which a Slovenian telescope would be moved to one of the best suited observation stations in Chile and remotely controlled and used from Slovenia, solely for purpose of education and research.

The location in Chile, where the telescope is about to be placed, has perhaps best conditions for astronomical observation in the world, which is why many of the international observatories can be found there, such as Gemini South, CTIO, La Silla, and El Sauce observatory, designed to host small and middle-sized telescopes from all over the world since 2015.

El Sauce observatory is also where GoChile 400-mm @f/6,4 Ritchey-Chrétien telescope is heading in April after all the equipment is tested and set up.

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