If there's one thing I learned during our trip through Chile's Coquimbo region this February, then that the country clearly has potential as destination for astrotourism. But are opportunities limited to tourism? In this interview, Dr Luis Chavarría, Director of the Astronomy Program at the National Commission for Scientific and Technological Research CONICYT, shares his thoughts on how growing interest in astronomy can contribute to the economic development of Chile.
Luis, interest in Chile as destination for astrotourism is expected to grow significantly this year, due to the total solar eclipse in July, which can be seen especially well in the Coquimbo region. How important do you think astronomy is for the region's economic competitiveness and reputation?
It is clear that astronomy has a great potential for economic development, not only in the Coquimbo region, but also in the entire north of the country. The geographical characteristics that create the conditions for a clear sky, are present in an area of more than one thousand kilometers from north to south.
In addition, the provision of roads and energy is a problem mostly solved in the places where the current observatories are located. All this is the reason why the largest telescopes in the world were and are being built in Chile. As a consequence, the general public awareness, curiosity, and demand have increased rapidly in recent decades, supported by the media, which constantly cover interesting discoveries thanks to telescopes located in our country.
In this sense, astronomy can become an economic engine for the Coquimbo, Atacama and Antofagasta regions, which can generate all kinds of services for observatories, and the different local universities can collaborate scientifically with them.
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