With the telescopes currently under construction, Chile will reach about 70% of the world’s astronomical capacity for earth observation by the end of this decade. However, despite being an astronomical paradise, the origins of this important activity in Chile have been forgotten. The documentary “Navegantes del Tiempo” seeks to rescue the history of the first professional observatory in Chile, built by the Scottish engineer and watchmaker Juan Mouat in Valparaíso around 1843, linking this heritage with the present and promising future of astronomical research.
“As a ministry, our task is precisely to generate spaces to bring science and knowledge closer and this initiative is an opportunity to value memory, rescue part of our history, see the past and project the future, motivating curiosity and highlighting the importance of our skies, which are a natural laboratory recognized worldwide and a heritage of all the inhabitants of the country,” said the Undersecretary of Science, Technology, Knowledge and Innovation, Carolina Gainza.
The premiere of this production by the production company Puerto Visual and financed by the Public Science program of the MinCiencia, was on Wednesday, December 13 at 6:00 pm, at the Extension Center of the Catholic University, Santiago. On the occasion, the attendees met some of the protagonists of the story, in a pleasant conversation.
An attractive and mysterious science
According to a study by Marca País, astronomy in Chile is perceived as “attractive and mysterious, although unknown”. The beginnings of the exploration of the Universe from Chile seem strange and distant to the public, despite the fact that it is an adventure that has almost two centuries of history. “Navigators of Time” is an innovative documentary of science, history and heritage, which manages to rescue the unknown story of the engineer and watchmaker of Scottish origin Juan Mouat, who in the mid-nineteenth century built the first astronomical observatory in Chile.
Mouat’s observatory was used to provide the time and calibrate the chronometers of navigators of the time. “All ships calibrated their chronometers before going from one place to another. So Juan Mouat, a visionary, used astronomy as a mechanism to provide a service to the community, as well as to the ships that were passing by. He communicated this information to the bay, to all the ships that were waiting to sail to Asia or return to Europe”, explains Eduardo Ibar, Director of the Institute of Physics and Astronomy of the University of Valparaiso and one of the protagonists of this story.
The documentary mixes real images and animations, making a fascinating journey through time to narrate the development of astronomy in Chile and discover the life of Juan Mouat. “We approached this documentary as a journey of exploration, both of astronomical science, heritage and local history. We worked in three main locations: the hills of Valparaíso, the city that welcomed Juan Mouat and the first observatory in Chile; the Calton Hill Observatory in Edinburgh, which allowed us to imagine what the telescope that operated two centuries ago in Valparaíso was like; and the Las Campanas Observatory, where today the Great Magellan Telescope is being built” points out Diego Rojas, general director of the audiovisual project. “Today, Leopoldo Infante, another key protagonist of the documentary, is Director of the Las Campanas Observatory and one of the descendants of Juan Mouat”.
On the other hand, Daniela Bustamante, architect and researcher, expert in astronomical heritage in Chile and President of the Altura Patrimonio Foundation, an institution dedicated to the research and dissemination of astronomical and archaeo-astronomical heritage in Chile, specifies. “Juan Mouat was a very complex character, but at the same time a very interesting character (…) He was a son of the Victorian period, of the industrial revolution, a very awake man, very curious, who like all immigrants during the 19th century who arrived in Valparaíso, came to seek his fortune (…) He was someone, from my perspective, with a very positive attitude and that everything had a solution”.
To which the writer Francisco Mouat, a descendant of this Scottish entrepreneur, adds: “We are talking about a boy who would have been about 25 years old or so. He was an engineer and a watchmaker by trade. So we are talking about a young man. I think that marks his destiny a little bit too (…) I am dedicated to books. I love books, I love reading them. My father, who was a doctor, a traumatologist, one day wanted to write the story of his great-grandfather, of my great-great-grandfather, of Juan Mouat. And he did not manage to complete it. He took notes, he took notes, he gathered photographs, clippings. And then he inherited all his folders to me to see if we could do something with this story. And here we are.
“Navegantes del Tiempo” was broadcast on NTV screens on Monday, December 18 at 22:00 hours, and will be aired again on December 21 at 23:00 hours and December 25 at 00:00 hours. It is also available on NTV’s Youtube channel: https://youtu.be/07v0NStduO0?si=7IiWeHPnsAeU7ShM