March 2012 News
U.S. Ambassador Alejandro Wolff highlights Chile-U.S. cooperation in astronomy
March 23, 2012
U.S. Ambassador Alejandro Wolff highlighted the extensive and rich history of bilateral cooperation in the field of astronomy. The Ambassador spoke at the inauguration of the construction site of the Giant Magellan Telescope at Las Campanas Observatory in Coquimbo, on Friday, March 23, underscoring that American institutions have invested over 2 billion dollars in equipment and activities related to astronomy since the 60s and that this invesment would continue to grow in the future.
The inauguration of the construction site was marked by a detonation to level the ground where the telescope will be built. The telescope will consist of seven mirrors that together will form one 25-meter mirror in diameter.
Following is the text of the Ambassador’s remarks at Las Campanas Observatory on March 23, 2012:
The United States has a long and fruitful history of working with Chile in the field of astronomy. In 1849, a U.S. Navy scientific mission run by Lieutenant James M. Gilliss established the first astronomical observatory in Chile on Cerro Santa Lucia to study Venus and Mars and to calculate the distance between the Earth and the Sun. After the study in 1852, Chile obtained that astronomical equipment and created the Chilean National Astronomical Observatory.
Much has happened since then -- the U.S. has steadily invested in astronomy in Chile, and Chile has grown to be the world’s premier destination for astronomical research and a source of world-class astronomers. The Carnegie Institution for Science Las Campanas Observatory, where we are fortunate to be today, and the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory represent the fruit of some of that U.S. investment, and they have fostered a tradition of collaborative U.S. - Chile astronomy research. When the Director of the National Science Foundation (NSF), Dr. Subra Suresh, visited Chile in January he reminded me that the NSF itself has been involved with astronomy in Chile since 1959 and has invested over $1 billion since then in equipment, infrastructure, and operations. Over the coming decade, the U.S. Government, along with U.S. universities and other U.S. public and private institutions, will invest hundreds of millions of dollars in innovative astronomy projects based in Chile.
These U.S. investments help advance the frontiers of science and engineering in the United States, in Chile, and around the world. However, the United States also sees investments in science and technology through astronomy and other fields as fundamental to economic growth through job creation, innovation, and promotion of education through research. We are pleased that Chile is such a strong partner.
As we move forward, partnerships will be very important. The Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA) still under construction near San Pedro Atacama, but already producing impressive images and science, is an excellent example of a global international partnership in which the United States is pleased to participate. When I visited ALMA to learn more about the site and the U.S. role in the construction, there was a real sense of excitement for scientific discovery and the incredible engineering behind the facility.
What brings us here today is the Giant Magellan Telescope, another example of international collaboration and active U.S. involvement. This next-generation telescope will change the way we view the universe and will build upon Chile’s growing and well-deserved reputation as a destination for world-class astronomy. The GMT is part of the next-generation of telescopes. It will allow astronomers to answer critical questions regarding the nature of dark matter and dark energy, black holes, and the birth and evolution stars and galaxies.
The engineering behind the GMT is impressive as well – from the light-weight mirrors made under the football stadium at the University of Arizona to adaptive optics that will remove image distortions due to the atmosphere.
I’m proud to be here to recognize the important U.S. role in astronomy in Chile and the important roles of our many partners as we move forward to advance our understanding of the universe.
I want to thank Miguel Roth and Wendy Freedman of the Carnegie Institution for Sciences for their work at Las Campanas and for bringing us together to celebrate this historic occasion. I would like to thank Under Secretary Schmidt and the Chilean government for their unfailing support of astronomy. I would also like to thank the partners in the GMT project who are with us today: the Carnegie Institution for Science, the Smithsonian Institution, Harvard University, and the Australia government. I also want to acknowledge those partners that could not be here today: the University of Texas at Austin, Texas A&M, the University of Arizona, the University of Chicago, and the Korean Astronomy and Space Science Institute.
I want to close with two points. First, when President Obama visited Chile a year ago, the joint statement by both Presidents explicitly highlighted the effective collaboration in the fields of astronomy and astro-engineering between the Chile and the U.S. governments and public and private academic and research institutions in both countries.
The GMT project and the “Big Bang” today are real results of that sincere collaboration. Finally, a quote from the American anthropologist Margaret Mead, which is still relevant today: “We are at a point in history where a proper attention to space . . . may be absolutely crucial in bringing the world together.”