Under the Stars of Cerro Tololo: Night 1

We arrived on Cerro Tololo after the day’s approach through the desert and the prior visit to Cerro Pachón. The roads are winding, often edge-less, packed gravel and sand pathways that lead up to both mountains. There is a split at the moment the road heads out to one observatory peak or the other. Cerro Tololo has been a site of observatories since 1965. It was studied and identified as an appropriate site in the 50s, and it is amazing that people were able to get up to the peak sans roadway. Images show people on horseback threading their way up.

The skies?  They are amazing. We’ll get to that. Night one was a little on the cloudy side from about sunset on to 3am or so. Before heading off to bed, we stayed up near the 4m Blanco courtyard and just looked up. The waxing moon was out, but one could still see Milky Way and the brighter southern stars without any issues through a light covering of cirrus. We had a smaller scope to look at the planets and some of the brighter deep sky objects, and enjoyed that as the clouds came and went. We also had a little fun with the moonlight, which, when used properly, can be a perfect illuminator for long exposures.

CTIO Night 1: The 4m Blanco by Moonlight

CTIO Night 1: The 4m Blanco by Moonlight

CTIO Night 1: The ACEAP team by moonlight

CTIO Night 1: The ACEAP team by moonlight

At about 3, I struggled to get out of the warm bed and out into the driveway to our dormitory. The dorms are located a ways down the peak, so I did not intend to work my way back up to the 4m plateau, but just wanted to go out and look up. Sure enough, the moon had set and the skies were clearing rapidly. There will still some high clouds, but nothing obscuring the skies as before. What I saw was amazing, just phenomenal: Milky Way illuminated the sky from horizon to horizon!  It was even bright enough to allow me to walk around without a flashlight. That’s a lot of stars! That is a clear site!  I ran back inside to get some more clothes on(!) and to grab the Nikon D810a with tripod and a 16mm fisheye. This is the view… amazing. One word.

CTIO Night One: Milky Way

The Milky Way seen from CTIO on night one. The view is so incredible that it is difficult to see constellations in the traditional way. Nikon D810a, 30s, 16mm f/2.8.

About johnb

- Director of Grainger Observatory, Phillips Exeter Academy. - Variable-star-crazed astronomer, but have done research in other areas. - Drummer, archer, pilot, chef, friend, pet owner, husband, father, Train-nut.
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