LCO celebrates half a century since its first light with the launch of a virtual tour

Las Campanas Observatory, part of the Carnegie Institution for Science, celebrates 50 years in October since the first light of its first telescope, which began operating in Chile in 1971. Since then, the Carnegie science team has been at the forefront of research on cosmology, galaxy formation and evolution, the chemical evolution of stars and planets, stellar variability, supernovae and more. To commemorate this important milestone, and to celebrate the month of science in Chile, the observatory will premiere a virtual tour through its facilities, based on a nocturnal visit, something unprecedented for this type of tour.

LCO was installed in Chile in 1969, high in the mountains of the Atacama Desert, due to the interest of Carnegie astronomers and astronomers to have an observing station in the Southern Hemisphere that would give them access to the Magellanic Clouds and the center of the Milky Way. The first telescope to be built was Swope, a 1-meter diameter reflector. It was followed by the 2.5-meter du Pont and the 6.5-meter reflecting Magellan telescopes, outstanding members of the latest generation of giant telescopes.

One of the important projects developed with the Swope telescope was the Carnegie Supernovae, which provided photometry and spectrophotometry of a large sample of supernovae. The Principal Investigator was Dr. Mark Phillips, former director and current director emeritus of LCO.

 The Swope telescope was named in honor of former Carnegie astronomer Henrietta Swope, whose generous donation made the telescope’s construction possible. Swope is known for her research on variable stars and for determining the periods of variation for numerous Cepheid variables in the Milky Way. The astronomer worked at the Carnegie Observatories since 1952 until the end of her career, during which she collaborated with researchers on work related to various types of variable stars, both in the Milky Way and in other galaxies. Her results were published in the most prestigious scientific journals.

“Henrietta worked at our institution at a time when it was not so common for women to dedicate themselves to this and, thanks to her, we have the observatory’s first telescope. Those who knew her say that she was a very nice and generous person, always willing to help,” says Dr. Nidia Morrell, resident astronomer at LCO.

It is precisely a virtual image of Henrietta Swope that leads the tour through the main facilities of Las Campanas Observatory. 

This virtual tour will provide insight into LCO’s operations, history and contributions to local science. The experience maintains the benefits of the traditional tour and will provide unique opportunities, such as a nighttime tour through the facility. The virtual tour will recreate the step-by-step of an observing night, something that is not common in traditional visits to a scientific observatory. This is why this tour will complement the in-person visits when they resume.

“While the virtual tour shows only the main telescopes, the observatory has other observational facilities such as the solar telescope, the Polish 1.3 mt telescope, the Sloan Digital Sky Survey V project, the Chat telescope, and the HatSouth and HatPi experiments,” says Dr. Leopoldo Infante, Director of LCO.

The virtual tour will be integrated into the current LCO website and will be optimized for mobile devices. The site will be available in English and Spanish.

The launch will be held in conjunction with a webinar, the main talk of which will be entitled “History of LCO and The Carnegie Observatories”, on October 14 at 15:30 hours (Chilean time, UTC-3) in Spanish with simultaneous interpretation into English. Registrations can be made at the following link*:

Las Campanas Observatory is part of the Astronomy and Astrophysics Division of the Carnegie Institution for Science.


  • 15:30-15:40 Opening remarks by John Mulchaey (Director of Carnegie Observatories)
  • 15:45-16:15 History of LCO and Carnegie Observatories, L. Infante (Director Las Campanas Observatory) 
  • 16:15-16:30 Launching of Virtual Tour, Carol Rojas (LCO Communications and Outreach)


Share this article