Stars and sand

San Pedro de Atacama is our last stop before we head into our third country – Bolivia. San Pedro is a bit similar to Pucon (a lot of tours and adventure), but this time it’s in the desert (the Atacama desert). Imagine dust, adobe houses, and lots of sunshine.

There’s a close connection between Belgium and San Pedro de Atacama. Father Le Paige was a Belgian Jesuit missionary who somehow ended up here. He liked to do a bit of archeology himself and collected numerous important objects left behind many centuries ago. The dry weather kept the objects in perfect condition. We visited the museum that was named after Father Le Paige.

The museum is not the only trail that Le Paige left behind. When Father Le Paige was in town he would talk about a valley just outside of town looking like it could be on Mars, he called it the Mars Valley, Valle de Marte in Spanish. The French accent and lack of rolling RRRR however, made it hard for the inhabitants to understand him correctly. They thought the Father was talking about the Valle de la Muerte, instead of Valle de Marte…  For us both names would be equally fitting.

San Pedro has about 350 cloudless day in the year, making it the driest desert in the world. These conditions make it also the best place in the world to observe the night skies. Proof are the numerous space observatories in the area, built by Europe, USA, … . Currently they are testing the telescopes for ALMA, the biggest ones ever built. This observatory will look for the origin of our Universe.

We found an organization that has about 10 decent size telescopes that offers star-gazing sessions at night. We looked up close at our Milky Way, Saturnus (with rings!!) and other stars and galaxies. Super amazing experience, it might even be that two new astronomy geeks have been born!

Star gazing at night, sandboarding in the day. We rented bike and board and headed to the high dunes of Valle de la Muerte. Burning calories walking up, having a blast going down. It was perfect!

Tomorrow we start our three-day tour across the salt flats of Uyuni, which will end in the town of Uyuni, Bolivia. See you there!

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Categories: Chile | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on “Stars and sand

  1. Lise

    geniet ervan!!!!
    x

  2. jos peeters

    Hi Jolien and Christophe,

    There is another link between Chili and Belgium.
    One of our customers, Aerofleet in Soumagne, has built a dome in the year 2001 using our raw materials. The dome is located at the top of mount Paranal in the Atacama desert. Below you find an article with some more details. It will help you not to forget your french !

    Enjoy yourselves,
    Nonkel Jos

    Aerofleet sous les cieux chiliens

    S.L.

    Mis en ligne le 19/02/2002

    La PME de Soumagne réalise des coupoles pour le plus puissant télescope du monde

    C’est au sommet du mont Paranal (2635m) dans le désert d’Atacama au nord du Chili, la zone la plus sèche de la planète où le ciel est dégagé 350 jours par an, que l’on construit le Very large télescope ou VLT -qui sera totalement opérationnel dans 5 à 8 ans. Créé par l’European southern observatory qui regroupe 8 pays dont la Belgique, il sera le plus grand et le plus puissant télescope du monde. Ses 4 miroirs de 8,2m de diamètre interconnectés et reliés à des télescopes auxiliaires mobiles permettront d’observer un astronaute sur la lune.

    Autant dire que le directeur d’Aerofleet, PME familiale installée à Soumagne qui occupe huit personnes, n’est pas peu fier d’annoncer sa participation dans ce projet titanesque. Aerofleet, contacté via la société Amos, réalise actuellement les coupoles de 5m de diamètre qui protégeront les télescopes auxiliaires, dans un matériau composite particulier, la spécialité de la PME. Le dossier a nécessité une recherche de pointe, les coupoles devant résister à des conditions extrêmes: Un vent de 250km/h, une pression de 28 tonnes, et des variations de température de 50 degrés. Il fallait réaliser un matériau approprié, note Raphaël Van Vlodorp. Une résine époxy en l’occurrence.

    De ce projet, Aerofleet ne devrait pas retirer de bénéfice, financier du moins. Je le fais par passion, insiste le directeur, en fait je suis plutôt en train de minimiser mes pertes. Mais j’aurai énormément appris.

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