28 November 2023

After three years of intensive work, the Astronomical Centre of the Polish Academy of Sciences opens an observatory in the Atacama Desert in Chile. The inauguration ceremony will take place on 28 November at the headquarters of the Astronomical Centre of the Polish Academy of Sciences.

ph: wirestock, freepik

In the heart of the Atacama Desert, in the best place for terrestrial stargazing, there are five telescopes of the Cerro Armazones Observatory (OCA) managed by the Nicolaus Copernicus Astronomical Centre of PAN. Located at an altitude of 2,817 metres above sea level, in a location with more than 340 cloudless nights per year and a perfectly stable atmosphere, the five, and ultimately six, modern telescopes are intended to allow the calibration of the cosmic distance scale. It is the particular problem that is the main focus of the international Araucaria Project,  led by Professor Grzegorz Pietrzyński, head of the OCA.

Poland is the only country, besides the USA, with its own observatory in the Atacama. While there are a total of seven observatories in the area, they are built and manage  by large international consortia. All except two are American: Cerro Tololo and Las Campanas, and precisely the OCA.

The agreement between ESO (European Southern Observatory), the Nicolaus Copernicus Astronomical Centre of the Polish Academy of Sciences (CAMK) and the Ruhr University Bochum (RUB) was signed on 17 January 2020. Over the next three years, the observatory was reconstructed and modified to effectively execute several rigorous and significant astronomy projects. During this time,  three new telescopes were erected while the older ones were taken out of operation.

Due to the remote location of the facility from human settlements, employees have to rely on their own infrastructure. 65 panels with a total area of ​​approximately 106 square meters were installed on the OCA premises.  The OCA is currently the only observatory in the world fully powered by ‘green energy’.

Five of the targeted six telescopes are now operational. The last one, with a 2.5-metre mirror, should be commissioned in 2025. It will be the largest telescope in the history of Polish space observation. A pillar of the telescope is already standing, and further work is planned for 2024-2025.

The project is funded by the Ministry of Education and Science and by a European ERC Synergy research grant.

The inauguration of the observatory will be broadcast on the CAMK youtube channel.