The vineyard-lined hills of the Elqui valley has historically been the domain of agriculturists. However, it’s now increasingly visited by people with a different profession: astronomy. By 2020, this grape-filled valley (along with the greater Atacama desert) will have an estimated 70% of the world’s astronomy infrastructure, thanks to its high altitudes, low population density and near non-existent cloud cover. As more scientists move to Elqui’s space-age facilities so do everyday astro-tourists in the hope of gazing at the heavens.
The International Dark-Sky Association declared Elqui valley the world’s first International Dark Sky Sanctuary in 2015 due to the unrivalled purity of its skies. The sanctuary site contains more than 35,000 hectares (90,000 acres) of mountainous terrain, and hosts four major research facilities: the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (CTIO, the southern branch of the U.S. National Optical Astronomy Observatory); the Gemini-South 8-m telescope; the 4-m Southern Astrophysical Research (SOAR) telescope; and the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST), which is currently under construction. The AURA Observatory also hosts many smaller astronomical, atmospheric and geological research projects on the site. Over the past 50 years, the U.S. and international partners have invested over a billion U.S. dollars in astronomical telescopes and advanced instruments on the AURA Observatory site, facilities that are planned to be operational for at least another five decades.
To learn about the stargazing excursions available, book a private or group tour, and see upcoming events, check here.
Chelynne Campion is a Production/ Sales Assistant for EarthSky. Her family just purchased a telescope, and she's now learning to be a stargazer!