CHSTM Research Seminar: 10 October 2023
Dr Barbara Kirsi Silva, Universidad Católica de Chile
Science, Politics, and Astronomers in the 1960s. Observing the Stars to Understand the South
Until the 1960s, astronomy primarily developed in the northern hemisphere, which not only hosted the most powerful telescopes of the time but also had a long-standing tradition of scientific and astronomical knowledge production. However, this scenario drastically changed in the when astronomers from different northern countries recognized the urgent need for observations from the southern hemisphere using telescopes that matched the technology of the northern hemisphere. This was seen as the only way to unveil critical mysteries of the universe. Cold War politics and the emergence of the space race made it possible to develop the necessary technology.
In the late 1950s, the United States, the USSR, and a group of European countries sought to establish their observatories in the southern hemisphere. South Africa, Chile, and Australia were considered as poten6al candidates for this endeavour. The experiences of these southern countries in astronomy were diverse. In the past, they had hosted several temporary missions and had some modest telescopes with varying degrees of autonomy and operational conditions, both on a national and international scale.
As the importance of the South in astronomy grew, an active network of scientific negotiations and assessments emerged. This highlighted the intricate nature of the ‘south’, beyond being perceived as a place lacking scientific contributions. By examining the cases of astronomy in Australia and Chile, particularly in the context of celestial phenomena accessible exclusively from these countries, it becomes possible to explore some of the ideas surrounding science in the southern hemisphere.
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