- Even though astronomers know a lot about the structure of the Milky Way, its origins and development remain somewhat mysterious.
- The author routinely travels to a remote observatory in Chile's Atacama Desert, where she studies ancient stars in dwarf galaxies that orbit the Milky Way, as well as stars in our galaxy's halo.
- Chemical analysis suggests that dwarf galaxy stars and halo stars formed from similar kinds of gaseous clouds, which in turn supports the idea that the Milky Way expanded by gobbling up small satellite galaxies—a habit that continues to this day.
Once we are settled in a red pickup truck, my driver and I leave the airport behind and make our way through Chile's Atacama Desert toward an isolated peak known as Cerro Manqui. Two hours later, as the car hugs a curve of the winding road that summits the mountain, I welcome a familiar sight: sunlight bouncing off the silver shells of the twin Magellan telescopes, Baade and Clay. My heart beats a little faster. Starting tomorrow night, the Clay telescope is all mine.
This article was originally published with the title Four Starry Nights.