Agnese is writing:
Waking up in La Serena’s sleeping district. There were enough blankets during night, so it was warm. Ilgonis and Andra are preparing breakfast, another really tasty omelette. Most of yesterday’s washing has not dried during the night, but at least we’ve got some clean clothes again.
When everyone is fed and packed we go to La Serena’s center to see the goods in the marketplace. We only have about 1.5h before we need to leave for further adventures so the walking around city is left for other days. The market now is finally a kind of bazaar – you can get both fresh meat and fish as well as shirts, earrings, alpaca wool scarves and jackets. Many booths take bank cards, some don’t charge extra for paying by card.
After reluctantly leaving the market and fueling up we leave La Serena and go north to La Silla observatory where we have booked an excursion for today. The scenery becomes more and more mountainous, sometime one can even feel the altitude in their ears. Soon we can spot some observatories on hilltops. There is not only one in this region, but La Silla is the oldest and the most famous scientifically. It is one of the ESO (European South Observatory) institutions that Europeans have built in Chile over last century to get access to the depths of the Southern hemisphere sky.
We arrive at the gate, register with the guard and get accepted. There are many more people here already, some wearing eclipse t-shirts or bandanas. While standing in the long queue to baño (toilet) we meet some Asian people from New York and share our eclipse plans.
Three big buses have arrived to take people up to the observatory but that is not enough, so some of us board a (quite large) minibus. They do excursions every Saturday and 150 people can apply (for free).
We are taken up, get nice views of the observatory on the way and also see some donkeys, guanacos and some animal that looks like a hare. The views to the surrounding mountains are beautiful. The height difference from the bottom to the top is about 1.5km. We took our nice fleece jackets, but when arriving at the top it appears to not to be enough. It is cold and we wish for gloves and hats as well. It also is cold inside the hall where we are shown an ESO promotion video. After that the guides ask for Spanish speaking guests – there are about 5 of such, so everyone else is in the English group.
First we are shown and told about the NTT – New Technology Telescope installed in 1989 with adaptive optics (the mirror gets pushed in the needed places to account for irregularities in gravity and other conditions). It only is able to rotate vertically and the building takes care of the horizontal one by rotating itself. There is also a special wind curtain to avoid too strong breezes.
After the story we get into buses again to go further up to the 3.6m telescope. There are smaller telescope domes scattered around, those are used for initial observations as the telescope-time of the big ones is expensive.
The 3.6m telescope with equatorial mount is indeed huge, much bigger than the 2.5m Hooker telescope that we saw in Mt. Wilson observatory during last eclipse tour. Also this one has a cage underneath where the operator of the telescope used to sit. Nowadays everything is managed from the operations centre in the small observatory village a bit lower down.
We take some pictures inside and outside and then get inside the buses for defrosting. On the way down there are donkeys crossing the road and guanacos grazing right next to it. When we get at the bottom, the wet clothes from yesterday’s washing left to dry in the cars are almost dry, but the sun is no more visible so we hurry up to the other side of the valley to see sunset.
There also is some TV news crew from Brazil and they are delighted to meet a group of eclipse chasers. We get filmed and interviewed and might appear on Brazilian news the following day. Watch it here!
After the sunset going to tonight’s chalet in Los Choros. We settle in, eat dinner and then Ilgonis drives away in dark to photograph stars and cactuses. Others join later on to observe a brilliant Milky way, constellations of the Southern hemisphere and Magellanic clouds. After seeing the constellation of dolphin to jump backwards over a hill, finding Southern Cross, Cantaurus, Crane, Peacock, Fly, Sagittarius, Capricorn, Scorpio and parts of Argonout ship as well as spotting a very bright meteor (and a few fainter ones) we go back to our cabaña (cabin) leaving Ilgonis alone with stars and cactuses again.