Cruz del Sur Observatory: discovering the Cosmos

Approximately three hours southeast from La Serena, there is the city of Combarbalá. Through a winding road we can see the valley of Limarí as the sun goes down in the horizon and the sky turns to red. We are heading to the Cruz del Sur (Southern cross or Crux) Observatory, one of the most interesting astronomic center that offers the Region of Coquimbo. This observatory is today one of the most recognized facility for those who enjoy astronomical tourism.

Some kilometers from this city of 13 thousand inhabitants, on the top of the hill called El Peralito, are placed the four domes of the observatory, just as the stars of the famous constellation Crux. This idea of “landing” the stars make sense with the explanations of our guide, Sandra, who welcomed us and invited us to know the exhibition hall that contains many astro pictures taken by the main scientific observatories of our country.

Then our guide presents us the Multimedia Room, a dome we access to take a seat and enjoy a documentary about the beginnings of astronomy and its development until today. “The plan, tells Sandra, is that this room will become in the coming months in a modern digital planetarium, with the highest technology, where they can give lectures and conferences to audiences of  near 80 people.”

The great “Plan” of Cruz del Sur Observatory is, in fact, to become the largest  and most complete tourist observatory of South America. To do this they have planned talks with telescopes with solar filters, that will allow the observation of the sun  and his spots, as well as implement real “water mirrors” which will serve to teach visitors about Archaeoastronomy, or how the ancient cultures that inhabited the region of Coquimbo were related to the stars, watching them through their reflection on the water and forming their own constellations.

The main talk is given in the outdoor amphitheater, so we went out to watch the sky of Limarí valley. There  Sandra begins to guide us through the sky with his pointer, because among so many stars it is difficult to find the patterns, forms or constellations. Besides, as we are located in the southern pole,  the constellations are inverted. We saw the lion lying on Leo, for instance, but upside down. Imagination, and the wise laser pointer of our guide. Direct observation, however, was not limited only to the classical constellations, but  we also took part in pre-Columbian cultures’ vision of the universe. Andean cultures saw forms in the “black spaces” among the stars. To put it simply, they didn’t match the points, they filled the gaps. Within the arm of the Milky Way can be clearly seen a Llama sitting with her offspring. Discovering these secrets is one of the novel experiences of Cruz del Sur: it brings us closer to the astronomy of our roots. Llamas, partridges, condors, as our ancestors saw them.

After that wonderful experience it is the turn for the observation through the telescopes. Cruz del Sur has telescopes of 14 and 16 inches, one of the best in the country regarding astronomical tourism. “Sometimes, says Sandra, people do not believe that what they see it’s true, and they ask very serious if it’s not a picture or something. ” Sounds crazy, illogical, hilarious,  disrespectful, but as I watch Omega Centauri I understand people’s reaction, a mere point in space, becomes through the eyepiece, a closed cluster of millions of twinkling lights. A really spectacle in the Valley Limarí.

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