New astronomical areas: Steps for global leadership

By Daniela González E.
Executive Director Fundación Cielos de Chile

The decree that establishes the new areas with scientific and research value for astronomical observation is a milestone not only for the astronomical community, but also paves the way for Chile to consolidate itself as the eyes of the world towards the universe.

Among the milestones marked by this decree, we should begin by pointing out that its signing on June 27, 2023, is the result of joint work between the public sector and academia. The Ministry of Science, Technology, Knowledge and Innovation created the Ministerial Advisory Commission for the elaboration of a proposal for astronomical areas. This joint work made it possible to establish objective criteria for the elaboration of the proposal that determined that 29 communes in the regions of Antofagasta, Atacama and Coquimbo be declared as areas with scientific and research value for astronomical observation.

A second milestone is that this decree complies with Law No. 21,162, which modifies Law No. 19,300 on General Bases of the Environment, to require the preparation of an environmental impact study for projects that may generate light pollution in astronomical areas. This important step in environmental institutionality highlights the need to consider dark skies as a natural resource that must be protected not only for its scientific value, but also for the ecosystemic services it offers to human beings and biodiversity.

The new decree will have far-reaching implications for the preservation of the night sky. If DS N°43/2012 of the Ministry of the Environment is updated in the short term, stricter regulations will be established for these areas with respect to outdoor lighting -their forms, magnitudes and schedules-, with the aim of reducing light pollution and promoting responsible lighting practices. By implementing comprehensive measures, the decree will help combat the harmful effects of excessive lighting. This new combined legislation will not only ensure uninterrupted observation of our universe, but will also benefit wildlife, human health and energy efficiency.

As a third milestone, this decree values the scientific vocation of the territories of these 29 communes, generating the enabling conditions for the development of the local economy through science and related activities. This decree sends a clear message that as a country we are committed to protecting our natural heritage, and offers a model for other countries to follow.

With the implementation of this decree, Chile consolidates its position as a world leader in the astronomical field, recognizing the efforts of scientists, non-profit organizations and passionate individuals who have advocated for the preservation of our night skies. By safeguarding the dark sky, we defend the right of every person to connect with nature's most captivating spectacle.


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