Science operations restarted at Paranal following pause due to the pandemic
18 september 2020
The exceptional circumstances imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic led ESO to suspend science operations at its observatories in late March. We are now pleased to announce that minimal science operations have restarted at ESO’s Paranal Observatory, in Chile’s Atacama Desert, under strict health and safety measures.
After carefully assessing the pandemic development and the logistic, technical and safety constraints associated with it, ESO started to ramp-up operations at Paranal, home to ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) in early September. Ramping up has been gradual, with observations restarting on only two of the four VLT 8.2-metre Unit Telescopes (UTs). The two instruments now in operation are FORS2 on UT1, our most in-demand instrument, and UVES, a high-resolution spectrograph on UT2.
While this is an important and exciting step, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic the safety of our staff remains paramount. As such, a comprehensive set of health measures has been put in place for staff both travelling to and from, and working at, Paranal. This includes supporting physical distancing by rearranging shared spaces, enforcing the use of facemasks when physical distancing cannot be maintained, and allowing a maximum of 30 members of staff on site at any given time. ESO has also created a working shift schedule to reduce the risk of infection for all staff and is carrying out daily health checks.
The ramp-up of operations at APEX, on the 5000-metre-high Chajnantor plateau about 500 km northeast of Paranal, is also ongoing, and the restart of scientific observations is imminent. ESO’s La Silla Observatory, some 700 km south of Paranal near La Serena in the Coquimbo Region of Chile, remains in a safe state with no scientific observations taking place.
All ESO observatories remain closed to visiting astronomers and public visitors. ESO will continue to closely follow the development of the pandemic in Chile to determine when it will be possible to further ramp-up its operations. In addition, ESO will revert back to safe mode at Paranal and APEX if health and safety considerations so dictate. For more information, please see the announcement about minimal science operations distributed to our science user community.
- COVID-19 coronavirus measures at ESO
- Minimal Science Operations at Paranal and reopening of the Director's Discretionary Time
ESO Public Information Officer
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Tel: +49 89 3200 6670
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