April 14, 2021 #Science & Knowledge.

Great astronomical discoveries from Chile, a natural observatory of the cosmos

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Learn about a series of great astronomical discoveries and research carried out from Chile, a country that possesses about 40% of the entire observational capacity of mankind.

With nearly 90% of clear nights per year, the skies of northern Chile are an incomparable natural laboratory for studying the cosmos. It is not for nothing that the regions of Antofagasta, Atacama and Coquimbo concentrate a large number of astronomical facilities. The Paranal Observatory with the Very Large Telescope (VLT) of the European Southern Observatory (ESO), the most advanced complex in the world, and the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA), the main radio observatory on the planet, both in the Antofagasta region. The Las Campanas observatory of the Carnegie Institution of the United States is located in Atacama, and La Silla (ESO) and the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory are located in the Coquimbo region.

Therefore, it is not strange to constantly hear about discoveries made from observatories located in Chile, as was the case last week of a group of Chilean scientists who discovered what could be a new planet, which would have five times the mass of Jupiter and would be 443 light years away from Earth.

In addition to the enormous astronomical capacity already installed in the desert, in the next few years we expect the arrival of tools that will make our country host from 40% to 70% of the optical astronomical capacity of all mankind: Vera Rubin, the Magellan Giant and the Extremely Large Telescope, which will be the largest optical telescope on the planet.

Today we take a look at ten major discoveries and research that have been carried out from observatories installed in Chile.

The best "measuring rod" for a decade: Classified as one of the most relevant projects in Chilean astronomy, the Calán-Tololo Project (1989-1996), a Chilean-US effort, studied distances in the universe. This project, in which two Chilean national exact science prizewinners, José Maza and Mario Hamuy, worked, generated what was for almost a decade the best "measuring rod in the universe". Calán-Tololo was key to a subsequent work that was awarded the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics, the Accelerated Expansion of the Universe.

First image of an extrasolar planet: It was taken with one of the VLT telescopes at the Paranal observatory in April 2004. It is a giant planet, about five times larger than Jupiter.

First supernova visible to the naked eye in more than 400 years: In 1987, supernova 1987A was discovered from Las Campanas. It was the first one visible to the naked eye in more than 400 years. It occurred in the Large Magellanic Cloud and its study confirmed the theory that elements such as iron were created in this type of explosion.

First photograph of a Supermassive Black Hole: In 2019 ALMA-APEX, together with observatories from other parts of the world, were part of the Event Horizon Telescope project. Combining the images from these telescopes, it was possible to obtain, for the first time, an image of the event horizon of the supermassive black hole at the center of the Messier 87 galaxy. Neil Nagar, an astronomer at the Center for Astrophysics and Related Technologies (CATA), participated in this discovery.

One of the first solitary brown dwarfs: In 1987 the astronomer of the University of Chile and director of the CATA Astrophysics Center, María Teresa Ruiz, discovered the solitary brown dwarf named Kelu (which means red in Mapudungun). Brown dwarfs begin their lives as stars, that is, as balls of gas, but they do not have enough mass to generate light.

The closest Super-Earth: In January 2020, "Proxima Centauri c" was discovered, an exoplanet located 4.2 light years away from Earth, and which has 6 times the mass of Earth. In composition it is more similar to our planet, instead of being a large mass of gas like Jupiter or Saturn. Instruments located at La Silla and Paranal were used to detect it.

The Milky Way's sister: Using the ALMA telescope, in August 2020 a scientific team discovered the most distant Milky Way-like galaxy (called SPT0418-47) 12 billion light-years away.

Evidence on the origin of black holes: In February 2021, University of Chile astronomer Andrés Escala discovered that supermassive black holes, i.e., those whose mass exceeds that of the Sun by billions of times, originate from the collapse of a cluster of stars in the core of galactic gravitational structures.

The shape of the center of the Milky Way: For many years it was believed that the central part of the Milky Way was spherical, however, in 2010, studies led by astronomer Manuela Zoccali, from the UC Astrophysics Institute, showed that it is actually X-shaped.

The Milky Way Family Tree: Astronomer Paula Jofré (who works at the Astronomy Nucleus of the Diego Portales University) chose 22 stars of the Milky Way, including the Sun, to develop the cosmic tree, also studying the 17 chemical elements that unite them.

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Image of Chile