In collaboration with the
International Astronomical Union


Category of Astronomical Heritage: cultural-natural mixed
Windows to the Universe (multiple locations): General description

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  • Format: Full Description (IAU Extended Case Study format)

    Identification of the property

    Country/State Party 
    • InfoTheme: ‘Windows to the universe’: Starlight, dark-sky areas and observatory sites
      Entity: 59
      Subentity: 1
      Version: 2
      Status: PUB
      Date: 2012-10-08 22:31:26
      Author(s): Cipriano Marin, Malcolm Smith, Richard Wainscoat with contributions by Clive Ruggles

    Chile / United States of America / Spain

     

    State/Province/Region 
    • InfoTheme: ‘Windows to the universe’: Starlight, dark-sky areas and observatory sites
      Entity: 59
      Subentity: 1
      Version: 2
      Status: PUB
      Date: 2012-10-08 22:59:33
      Author(s): Cipriano Marin, Malcolm Smith, Richard Wainscoat with contributions by Clive Ruggles

    Coquimbo Region / State of Hawaii / Canary Islands

     

    Name 
    • InfoTheme: ‘Windows to the universe’: Starlight, dark-sky areas and observatory sites
      Entity: 59
      Subentity: 1
      Version: 7
      Status: PUB
      Date: 2012-10-08 21:44:42
      Author(s): Cipriano Marin, Malcolm Smith, Richard Wainscoat with contributions by Clive Ruggles

    Three separate observatory sites:

     

    Geographical co-ordinates and/or UTM 
    • InfoTheme: ‘Windows to the universe’: Starlight, dark-sky areas and observatory sites
      Entity: 59
      Subentity: 1
      Version: 6
      Status: PUB
      Date: 2012-10-08 23:42:25
      Author(s): Cipriano Marin, Malcolm Smith, Richard Wainscoat with contributions by Clive Ruggles

    AURA Observatory:

    • Cerro Tololo: Latitude 30° 10′ 09″ S, longitude 70° 48′ 23″ W, elevation 2240m
    • Cerro Pachón: Latitude 30° 14′ 27″ S, longitude 70° 44′ 12″ W, elevation 2700m


    Mauna Kea Observatory: Latitude 19° 49.4′ N, longitude 155° 28.4′ W, elevation 4190m

    Canarian Observatories:

    • ORM - La Palma: Latitude 28° 46′ N, longitude 17° 53′ W, elevation 2396m
    • OT - Tenerife: Latitude 28° 18′ N, longitude 16° 30′ W, Elevation 2390m

     

    Justification for inscription

    Comparative analysis 
    • InfoTheme: ‘Windows to the universe’: Starlight, dark-sky areas and observatory sites
      Entity: 59
      Subentity: 1
      Version: 7
      Status: PUB
      Date: 2013-10-16 12:16:21
      Author(s): Cipriano Marin, Malcolm Smith, Richard Wainscoat with contributions by Clive Ruggles

    Modern astronomy has mostly been developed in a few exceptional places on our planet where a unique set of natural circumstances converge. These sites have been chosen for decades by the international scientific community to develop the most important groups of telescopes in the world.

    Historically, ground-based observatories have provided the vast majority of our knowledge of outer space. However, present-day technical and scientific requirements restrict suitable areas to very specific and limited locations: those that offer good conditions for the development of astronomy, and of optical and infrared astronomy in particular. There are only a few places on our planet featuring this unique combination of environmental and natural circumstances: well-conserved spaces with very little alteration to natural starlight.

    The importance of the Windows to the Universe lies not only in the uniqueness of each site and group of telescopes, but also in the fact that, taken together, they cover both the northern and southern parts of the celestial dome.

    Fig. 1: A selection of remarkable observing sites. Based on ’The process of selection of exceptional observing sites‘, by Richard Wainscoat;
    elaboration on CIA’s Physical Map of the World, 2004.

     

    Integrity and/or authenticity 
    • InfoTheme: ‘Windows to the universe’: Starlight, dark-sky areas and observatory sites
      Entity: 59
      Subentity: 1
      Version: 8
      Status: PUB
      Date: 2013-11-08 17:38:33
      Author(s): Cipriano Marin, Malcolm Smith, Richard Wainscoat with contributions by Clive Ruggles

    Authenticity

    The Windows to the Universe meet several conditions of authenticity that are expressed through the following attributes:

    • Each observatory contains a group of telescopes whose form and design is quite unique. The development and construction of the telescopes represent the state of scientific and technological developments at the time when they were built. Their form and design is unique and unrepeatable.
    • In each case, the development of specific instruments represented true technological micro-revolutions. The list of new materials that appeared in these observatories with the creation of the telescopes is impressive, and, in many cases, those technologies and materials have been replicated in applications of great social importance, including medicine.
    • The observatories and telescopes are a continuous representation of the state of the art in astronomy as it developed through time. The telescopes were designed for specific functions, according to the observational priorities for which they were created. These functions correspond to key aspects of our knowledge of the universe at the time in question.
    • The observatories have given rise to a particular form of technological and scientific management. Unlike many other human activities, they are usually managed by scientific community consortia or agreements, representing a form of management based on international cooperation.
    • The Windows to the Universe have contributed invaluably to the intangible heritage of humankind. The sites under consideration have produced most major discoveries about the universe in modern times. Some of these discoveries have fundamentally altered the course of science.
    • The Windows to the Universe only occur in places with exceptional natural conditions, which are only found in very few places on the planet.

    Integrity

    The conservation status of the designated case study areas qualifies as ’intact‘ in relation to the applicable criteria.

    The three ’Windows to the Universe‘ selected include the world’s most important representation of the telescopes that have marked the history of modern astronomy throughout decades. All the telescopes, even the oldest ones, are in good condition. Under no circumstances have the telescopes been demolished. If they lose their original function because of scientific and technological progress, they are adapted to other functions, whether scientific, educational, or astro-tourist. In some cases the buildings and instruments have also been conserved.

    The identity and unique construction features of the buildings and groups of telescopes have been maintained and will be kept intact, except for instrumental modifications or readjustments.

    Exceptional sky quality and an environment undisturbed by external activities unrelated to sky observation are the natural conditions that determine its uniqueness as a superlative natural phenomenon, by application of criterion (vii). These conditions have remained practically unchanged over the past decades. This is demonstrated by the continuous records carried by the three identified sites, in relation to all air quality factors. The three sites keep continuous measurements of sharpness, seeing, and the natural darkness conditions of the night sky, concluding that natural conditions have remained practically unchanged to date.

    The influence of light pollution beyond the areas under consideration, or the possible occupation of land by other activities are effects that can compromise the integrity of resources. These effects are being mitigated in every case.

    Permitted activities in the selected areas are fully compatible with resource conservation. Only professional astronomical observations, occasional research and astro-tourism activities are allowed, ensuring the sustainable use of each area.

    The selected areas and their protection zones are of an appropriate size to ensure resource integrity. Furthermore, the areas under consideration are surrounded by quite large protected areas.

    • The site of the Chilean observatories covers an area of 34,491 ha. It is located in a large territory without any human intervention or land-use projects.
    • The Mauna Kea Science Reserve, where the observatories are located, covers an area of 4,520 ha. Included in its surroundings is the Ice Age Reserve covering an area of 1,576 ha.
    • In the case of Mount Teide, the observatories would constitute the central zone of an area of 18,000 ha, with a buffer zone of 40,000 ha. With regard to the observatories of La Palma, the area under consideration measures 8,873 ha, which are included in a natural protection area that exceeds 41,000 ha.

     

    Criteria under which inscription might be proposed 
    • InfoTheme: ‘Windows to the universe’: Starlight, dark-sky areas and observatory sites
      Entity: 59
      Subentity: 1
      Version: 12
      Status: PUB
      Date: 2013-11-08 17:07:30
      Author(s): Cipriano Marin, Malcolm Smith, Richard Wainscoat with contributions by Clive Ruggles

    • Criterion (i): Each telescope is a one-of-a-kind masterpiece in which a range of disciplines and expertise converge, reflecting state-of-the-art technology and scientific understanding at each stage in the evolution of modern astronomy.

      Each telescope or group of telescopes constituting the Windows to the Universe expresses, in several different ways, both human creative genius and the state of the art in technology, as well as reflecting our extraordinary knowledge of the Universe.

      The combined know-how accumulated through international scientific cooperation has enabled some of these telescopes to contribute decisively—either individually or in combination—to the huge advances in our astronomical knowledge that have taken place in recent times.

    • Criterion (iii): The observatories and their telescopes bear unique and exceptional testimony to the culmination of observational astronomy in the 20th century.

      During the 20th century, our knowledge of the universe has been revolutionized thanks to the development of earth-based observatories. Many of the extraordinary advances in our knowledge of the cosmos that have now become part of our collective culture—such as the expansion of the universe and the discovery of many exotic objects including quasars, pulsars, blazars, and radio galaxies—were based on observations made at these places.

      The Windows to the Universe are therefore icons representing one of the greatest scientific revolutions known in the history of humankind. They are also emblematic of a new culture for the development of science based on international cooperation.

    • Criterion (iv): Observational arrays and groups of telescopes are unique ensembles of complex design that represent the different stages of humankind’s recent technological evolution in several key areas, from optics to new materials. Many of the technological advances achieved at each stage of the observatories have had, and continue to have, a major impact on society.

      Each telescope and element built in each observatory represents a milestone, both in architectural terms and in engineering development. Each of these extraordinary built elements and technological ensembles is quite unique.

    • Criterion (vii): The exceptional sky quality in these locations results from a unique combination of atmospheric, meteorological and microclimatic factors that only occurs at fewer than a dozen sites on Earth.

      The Windows to the Universe are characterised by superlative natural conditions that not only ensure long periods of useful observing time (clear sky), but are also exceptional in terms of sky background (darkness), atmospheric extinction (transparency), and seeing (for sharp images).

      The places where the observatories are located, and the surrounding areas, lay claim to some of the most spectacular starry sky sceneries in the world. Besides their importance for the development of astronomy, the Windows to the Universe are characterised by the extraordinary scenery of the starry firmament, whose magnificence is enhanced by the nature and geology of these sites. These places have traditionally been of symbolic importance to local communities.

     

    Suggested statement of OUV 
    • InfoTheme: ‘Windows to the universe’: Starlight, dark-sky areas and observatory sites
      Entity: 59
      Subentity: 1
      Version: 7
      Status: PUB
      Date: 2013-11-10 11:31:12
      Author(s): with contributions by Clive Ruggles

    The Windows to the Universe are groups of telescopes located in unique environments with unrivalled natural characteristics. There are no better places on the planet from which to observe the skies in optical and infrared wavelengths. The major advances in astronomy that have been made at these places have come to form part of the collective memory of humankind.

    During the 20th century the observatories of Chile, Hawaii, and the Canary Islands have come to represent the peak of earth-based observational astronomy and a crucial period for the development of science. They contributed decisively to many of the most important advances and discoveries in modern astronomy throughout the century, and continue to do so.

    The Windows to the Universe are also emblematic of one of the biggest international cooperative efforts in the history of astronomy, reaching beyond the borders of countries and cultures.

    The Windows to the Universe thus represent a unique combination of three factors:

    • The observatories at each site are a group of complex technological buildings that have played and still play a key role in the history of modern science.
    • All the scientific and technological developments that have taken place at these sites represent the results of extensive cooperation between many different nations.
    • The natural areas where the observatories are located benefit from exceptional atmospheric conditions which make their skies the clearest in the world.

     

    Theme

    ‘Windows to the universe’: Starlight, dark-sky areas and observatory sites

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