The news that the northern Chile was hit by an earthquake (14th of November 2007) was quite worrisome to me since we as a nation (Armenians) suffered from a devastating quake in 1988 and I could only hope that the damages are not so extensive. But it was quite a relief to learn that things were not that dramatic at all, in fact they made a good recovery.The second reason that I was quite worried was the simple fact that the town of Antofagasta where the quake felt quite strong is near to the one of the most modern astronomical facilities in the world – European Southern Observatory’sVLT(i) facility. This site holds one of the most important instruments build recently – ESO Very Large Telescope Interferometer (VLTI).
VLTI operation is based on very precise system of delay-lines which are aligned in order of nanometers and you can imagine how an earthquake can change that, but recently (18th of November 2007) I got a the ESO Electronic newsletter where they inform that everything is just OK at the site:
On November 14 at 12:41 LT an earthquake with magnitude 7.7 (Richter) with epicenter north of Antofagasta affected the north of Chile. In Paranal it was registered with a magnitude of 5.7, a peak ground cceleration of 0.6m/s2 and for a duration of approx 2 minutes. This has been the strongest earthquake since 1997, the first “high risk” earthquake ince the start of operation of the VLT, and the first strong earthquake since the opening of the residencia. Neither injuries to the people nor damages to the installations have been registered. After extended checkout procedures, the regular night time operations have been resumed at the sunset. All the systems have been operated without restrictions, including all four UTs with their instruments and the LGS) and the ATs with VLTI. Several other minor episodes have been registered in the following 24 hours without any impact on the normal VLT activities. News about Paranal can be found at http://www.eso.org/paranal/insnews/news.html
So it’s great! I also remembered the lecture given during the VLTI Summer School back in June 2006 where we have been told that the VLTI system is so robust that it can withstand earthquakes without any problems. It’s good to hear that it’s true!