On November 22nd, in Santiago, the capital of Chile, at the witness of Chinese President Xi JinPing and Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, Prof. Jun Yan, Director General of National Astronomical Observatories, Chinese Academy of Sciences (NAOC), and Mr. Jorge Tabilo Álvarez, President of the Catholic University of the North (UCN) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to jointly develop an Astronomical Observational base in Chile.
Due to its outstanding astronomical climate, and the steady support of its government, Chile is a key site for international astronomy research. Over the last few decades, several foreign interests, such as the U.S.A., Japan, and the E.U., have developed observational facilities in the country. The Ventarrones site (VTRS), which belongs to the Catholic University of the North, has been subject to detailed investigation and comparison by the Chinese Academy of Sciences South America Center for Astronomy (CASSACA) and is considered as an excellent site for astronomic observations. The site is located in the famous Atacama Desert, about 1200 KMs north from Santiago, and is at an altitude of 2900 meters.
The VTRS site was previously selected as a candidate site for the European Southern Observatory’s (ESO) 39 meter European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT, in construction), and its sky quality and conditions have been evaluated and positively confirmed by world-class institutions. In order to promote scientific developments in the field of observational astronomy and related sciences and technology, and to strengthen the collaboration and communication of scientists, engineers, and students between the two countries, NAOC and UCN have agreed to form a bilateral partnership to develop the VTRS site into a world-class scientific research base for observational astronomy. The site is also expected to play an important role in the scientific outreach and education.
This event marks the second time these parties have signed a MOU witnessed by both their respective heads of state, the first being the attendance of Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and the Chilean President in the signing ceremony of China-Chile Joint Astronomical Data Center in 2015. The MOU is also a highlight of and a major milestone in CASSACA’s past three years of work, after its foundation in Chile since 2013. Dr. Jun Yan，the Director General of NAOC, specifically pointed out that developing an observational base in Chile is a strategic step that has been carefully considered by the scientific community, based on the long-term plan for China’s development in the field of astronomy. The official signing of the MOU and its gradual implementation will enable China for the first time to have a world-class site overseas by means of joint development. This will be of great significance to the development of astronomical observation and techniques in China, and it will further promote cooperation and communications between China and Chile in the field.
The news that NAOC and UCN will collaborate to develop astronomical observatories in Chile has attracted strong interest in the local community and media. The idea of constructing future observatories in this kind of collaborative way is supported by the Chilean government and local astronomers, who are optimistic in regards to the future development of the project. One major media outlet in Santiago prepared a special report on the signing of the agreement, pointing out that this is a milestone in China’s development of astronomical observations in South America. Dr. Cameron, the director of ESO (Chile), commented in a congratulatory letter that this collaborative approach is an “excellent choice” for China. He also expressed willingness to provide assistance for the future development of the VTRS site.