© ESO /Y. Beletsky
Public visits to the Paranal and La Silla Observatories, home to ESO’s telescopes, have been a key component of ESO’s outreach efforts for many years. Since the COVID-19 pandemic made these visits impossible, in 2020 ESO started offering virtual online tours that mimic as closely as possible the in-person experience. In this blog post we will tell you some behind the scenes stories about how these virtual tours came to be, and what we have planned for upcoming tours.
All-sky image of Paranal Observatory with the Milky Way arching over the VLT.
Located in the Chilean Atacama desert, ESO’s Paranal and La Silla Observatories are unique attractions for astronomy enthusiasts. ESO has offered free guided tours every weekend since 1996 (La Silla) and 1998 (Paranal), where the public gets to see our telescopes first hand and learn how astronomers, engineers and other staff live and work under the harsh conditions of the Atacama desert.
In March 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in Chile, its impact was felt in nearly all areas of society — including ESO’s activities. Public visits were suspended and science activities at the observatories were reduced and eventually paused. By the end of 2020 the situation in Chile had improved and observations slowly ramped up, but with minimum staffing and under strict safety measures. As of July 2021, public visits remain temporarily suspended. But this didn’t stop us: if people couldn’t come to our observatories, we would bring the observatories to them! In June 2020 we embarked on an ambitious project to offer virtual tours streamed online, in English and Spanish, where the audience could explore our facilities and ask questions live to our guides. But how did we do it?
Read more here.