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The world's tallest observatory was officially opened in Chile: what it looks like and what is special about the telescope that is located there

Anna BoklajukNews
Atacama Observatory of the University of Tokyo (TAO). Source: TAO project

After nearly three decades of planning and construction, the world's tallest observatory has begun operations. The Atacama Observatory of the University of Tokyo (TAO), located at an altitude of 5640 meters atop Cerro Chahnantor in Atacama, northern Chile, has officially opened.

PhysicsWorld writes about this with reference to a message from the University of Tokyo Observatory. At this altitude, clear skies and a small amount of water vapor in the atmosphere make Atacama one of the best places in the world for ground-based infrared astronomy.

Built by the University of Tokyo, the telescope, which can be remotely controlled, includes a 6.5-meter main mirror developed at the Richard F. Caris Mirror Lab at the University of Arizona.

Building the telescope on top of Mount Chajnantor "was an incredible challenge, not only technically but also politically," Space quoted Yuzuru Yoshii, a professor at the University of Tokyo in Japan who has headed the TAO since 1998, as saying.

"I have been in contact with indigenous peoples to ensure that their rights and views are taken into account, the Chilean government to obtain permission, local universities for technical cooperation, and even the Chilean Ministry of Health to make sure that people can work at such a height in a safe way."

The world's tallest observatory was officially opened in Chile: what it looks like and what is special about the telescope that is located there

"Thanks to all the participants, the research I've only dreamed of may soon become a reality, and I couldn't be happier," he added.

The observatory is equipped with two spectrographic instruments. The Wide Field Simultaneous Color Infrared Multi-Object Spectrograph (SWIMS) and the Multi-Mode Interferometer for the Observation of the Unknown Universe (MIMIZUKU).

SWIMS will cover the wavelength range from 0.9 to 2.5 micrometers to observe large areas of the sky. It is planned to be used to study galaxies, as well as the evolution of supermassive black holes that exist in their centers. Meanwhile, MIMIZUKU will operate in the range of 2-38 micrometers. It will be used to better understand the chemical nature of organic dust in the universe, which could reveal details about the evolution of various materials, including those that led to the creation of life.

Before the newly discovered telescope was built, Yoshii and his colleagues also assembled and used a 1-meter telescope on a mountain top in 2009. The tiny telescope, dubbed miniTAO, captured images of the center of the Milky Way, our home galaxy. Two years later, miniTAO was awarded the Guinness Book of World Records as the tallest astronomical observatory on Earth.

Despite the fact that the observatory has been discussed for the past 26 years, work on the site began only in 2006, when the first access road to the top of Mount Chakhnantor was laid and a weather monitor was installed shortly after.

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