Updated 01:15 AM EST, Sat, Dec 15, 2018

Light Pollution Threatens Study of the Skies?: Plans for Giant Magellan Telescope in Chile Hits Obstacle

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The Giant Magellan Telescope has started construction in Chile, and when it's finished, it will be the largest in the world -- it will also offer a clearer view of things in space, as it is said to be up to ten times sharper than the Hubble, according to a report by Popular Science.

Chile's Atacama Desert is among the most perfect places to get a great view of the stars: it is one of the driest places on Earth, so there's rarely a rain cloud in the sky. It is also far from the big cities, so there's not much light pollution and smog... Or is there?

Reuters reported that after breaking ground on the state-of-the-art $1 billion telescope, new streetlights along the north-south highway in Chile, just 1,700 meters (5,600 ft) below, were very light up.

Guillermo Blanc, an astronomy professor at the University of Chile said, "It's like putting an oil rig in the middle of the Great Barrier Reef." He also called the streetlight installation "insane."

This is because in the past 30 years, Chile has had the reputation of being a great observational hub for astronomers. More than a dozen major research telescopes are said to have been built in the area, and by 2020, it should have around 70 percent of the world's astronomical infrastructure.

Atacama's low humidity and smooth airflow created an unrivaled visibility for high-tech telescopes that could help scientists shed light on the formation of the universe, as well as study the possibility of the existence of extraterrestrial life. However, the increased light pollution in Atacama will be hindering the said studies.

Patrick McCarthy, the president of the GMT said, "As these cities and highways grow, you start to wash out the faintest objects. The thing is, the faintest objects are the reason we're building these telescopes in the first place."

If Chile does not take proper measures, Chris Smith, Chile mission head for a Washington-based research group said that the creeping light pollution could degrade the skies in the region in as little as a decade.

Many towns have been receptive about protecting areas from light pollution, but businesses lobbied for the potential impact on the industry, with local authorities expressing safety concerns about the dark streets.

Scientists have already asked the United Nations to label the Region as a World Heritage Site, which they hope could successfully maintain the dark skies above. After all, the studies conducted in the area are of utmost importance. The University of Chile stated, "We're trying to answer very fundamental questions: How did the universe begin? How did the sun form? That's something that belongs to humanity. And we think we have a duty, as a country, to protect it."

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