From Chile with Love

Big physics and astronomy experiments are impressive sights. That means they make great film locations. In its time the Lovell Telescope was the place where the fourth Doctor (Tom Baker) died and regenerated as Peter Davison. The Parkes radio telescope in Australia has been in The Dish (a great movie in my opinion). The Very Large Array (VLA) in New Mexico featured in Contact. The Arecibo dish starred in the James Bond movie GoldenEye. Now the makers of James Bond are using another observatory - Paranal - in the upcoming Bond film Quantum of Solace (there is a spoiler warning on that link!).

The European Organisation for Astronomical Research in the Southern Hemisphere (which somehow makes the acronym ESO) have a great site for telescopes at Paranal in Chile. It is high in the Atacama desert so is both dry and has little atmospheric turbulence to twinkle the stars. The site is home to several telescopes making up the Very Large Telescope (VLT) and that means lots of astronomers need to go there to collect observations and reduce data. With large numbers of people visiting the remote site at altitude, ESO built their own astronomer hotel named the Residencia. The Residencia is a pretty stunning looking building and that together with the stunning and remote location inspired the film-makers to choose it as the secret lair of the next movie's Bond-villain.

The ESO Residencia, looking towards West. CREDIT: Massimo Tarenghi, ESO PR Photo 05c/02
In the picture above you can see the low profile of the Residencia with the VLT on top of Paranal mountain in the distance. In the picture you can also see the dome covering an amazing 'oasis' and swimming pool. If only all observatories had guest quarters like this!

Residencia oasis
The swimming pool at the lowest floor of the Residencia, Paranal, Chile CREDIT: Massimo Tarenghi, ESO PR Photo 05e/02
It is great to see another observatory featured in popular culture. Perhaps the demands of Bond villains will inspire the astronomers at ESO to ask for one million dollars one 100 billion dollars to build the Extremely Large Telescope.

Posted in astro blog by Stuart on Friday 28th Mar 2008 (22:53 GMT) | Permalink
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