Earth’s biggest telescopes reopen after months of COVID closures – Astronomy Magazine

Posted: October 29, 2020 at 6:24 pm

After more than six months of COVID-related closures, observational astronomy is largely getting back to work.

Many of the worlds biggest telescopes have reopened their domes in recent weeks, returning their gazes to the heavens for the first time since the pandemic forced a global shutdown of observational astronomy in March. Other major telescopes expect to reopen soon.

This wave of reopenings was buoyed by declining COVID-19 cases in Chile, especially in the Atacama Desert, a region home to many world-class observatories. U.S. officials who manage telescopes in Hawaii and Arizona say theyre also beginning to resume operations, largely thanks to significant changes in their workflows.

If major observatories continue to come back online and remain open it will end an unprecedented dark era in astronomy. After all, even during World War II, Americas observatories kept a close eye on the skies.

They have to live on campus part-time. Even the astronomers using the instruments typically travel to the observatories during their awarded observing nights.This reality forced observatories to shut down in the early days of the pandemic. There was no way to abide by social distancing rules and effectively run the telescopes. In interviews back in March, observatory directors said they expected telescopes to be offline for at least three to six months. And thats largely how the pandemic played out for them.

Luckily for the field, those survey telescopes didnt pick up any once-in-a-lifetime objects that would leave astronomers agonizing over what might have been.

Although not a light-gathering observatory,LIGO, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, was forced to shut down its observing run a month early due to COVID-19. LIGO was planned to be offline for upgrades until 2022, but the pandemic is causing delays that could extend the process even longer. Processing the data from the last observing run is also taking longer than expected.

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Earth's biggest telescopes reopen after months of COVID closures - Astronomy Magazine

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