See Inside Scientific American Volume 307, Issue 6

Is the Milky Way a Cannibal? An Astronomer Travels to the Driest Place on Earth to Find Out

At the driest place on Earth, one astronomer sifts through starlight to find clues about the Milky Way's evolution. Here is her account of a typical trip, based on four days in March 2011

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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.

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