Courting the Sirens of the Southern Sky (

Courting the Sirens of the Southern Sky

Attached to the main lodge is a terrace where, at days end, astronomers gather to try to get a glimpse of the green flash, a rare last vestige of the sun as it disappears below the horizon, if the conditions are exactly right.

After sunset its lights out at the lodge, and observatory personnel will come and pull down the blinds on your cabin windows, if you havent done so already, to keep artificial light off the mountain and out of sensitive telescope instruments.

One night I walked over to the Swope Telescope, beneath a Milky Way so bright that it was possible to navigate the narrow trail by its light alone.

Through the telescope I beheld banded Jupiter holding court with three of its glittering moons and, 160,000 lightyears away in the Large Magellanic Cloud, mists of interstellar gas twining through the Tarantula Nebula.

The view at the top of Las Campanas the next morning was less immediately celestial a cluster of construction trailers a maze of rope barriers to keep visitors from falling off the mountain.

Next to the domes on Las Campanas is a cluster of cabins for visitors, staff members and researchers, who stay for a week at a time, and a lodge with a dining hall, which has a cappuccino machine.

Populating the ridge and surrounding slopes are herds of gazellelike creatures called guanacos viscachas, marmotlike rodents with rabbity ears burros and hawks.

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