Its ideal sky conditions and state-of-the-art technology are among the reasons why both local and international students, and even renowned astronomers, are motivated to observe and study the skies in Chile.
“There is no other country with similar conditions. This is paradise in terms of astronomy. The Atacama Desert fulfills two aspects that are essential for observation: cloudless skies and very little atmosphere between the telescope and the stars. These are ideal conditions for observing the stars and galaxies,” explained German astrophysicist Matthias Schreiber, professor at Universidad Técnica Federico Santa María and alternate director of the Millennium Nucleus for Planet Formation (NPF).
This view is shared by Thomas Puzia, professor at the Universidad Católica’s Astrophysics Institute, who also hails from Germany. He asserts that very few other places on Earth have viewing conditions that are comparable to those in Chile. “Only Hawaii, with its observatories on top of inactive volcanoes, and the Antarctic, come close to the quality of the observations made on mainland Chile,” he remarked.
However, it’s not only its clean skies that make Chile one of the best places for studying astronomy; the significant infrastructure installed here is also key. “Many professional observatories are located in northern Chile and investigate the universe in optical, infrared, sub-mm and radio wavelengths. Chilean university students have the singular opportunity of being able to observe and collect important data sets right from the outset of their careers,” commented Puzia.
Schreiber joins in, saying that Chile has more than half of the best telescopes in the world and, what is more, there is also privileged access to make use of them. “Chile has 10% of the right to use and that is a huge advantage, considering that the rest of the world has to share the remaining 90%. This means that under- and post-graduate students can come and study with the best telescopes in the world. When I was in Germany, this wasn’t possible. This is privileged access and it’s also fascinating because it’s located in the middle of the desert, at an altitude of around 5,000 meters,” he enthused.
Field of employment
In terms of employment, Schreiber says that the majority of PhD students that have studied under him go on to work in a permanent research position. “If you studied in Chile, the level is so good that you can easily compete with students from the U.S. or Europe. The work field is growing,” he concludes.
These three elements have made Chile such an attractive place to study the skies that even a popular phrase has been coined: “Chile, the eyes of the world”. As far as interest from foreign students goes, the UC professor commented that international students from every continent apply each year. “Because of its unique potential for astronomy, Chilean universities have become extremely attractive to new students who wish to learn about the universe. Even though the pandemic has reduced the number of students because of travel restrictions, interest continues to grow and will build further with the next generation of extremely large telescopes to be installed in Chile,” he emphasized.
For anyone looking to study astronomy, any related career or to pursue a PhD in the field, Chile has a long list of universities, including the Astrophysics Institute of Universidad Católica, and Learn Chile, a network of higher education institutions that includes the Universidad de La Serena, Universidad de Valparaíso, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaíso, Universidad Metropolitana de Ciencias de la Educación, and Universidad Técnica Federico Santa María.
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