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Mon, 12 Feb 2018
Chile’s Pristine Skies Are Key To Astronomy’s Next Generation Of Telesc...

Long known for its copper, sea bass and merlot wine, Chile’s most profound export may be data that its astronomical observatories mine nightly from its pristine skies.

Credit: ESO Exoplanet hunters at ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile.

Because Chile’s ground-based window onto our Milky Way’s galactic center is arguably unmatched, the European Southern Observatory (ESO) first set up shop here more than a half century ago. Today, their 15 member states enjoy facilities at three major observatories.

“ESO spends 80 million euros [$100 million] a year for its operations in Chile and is the biggest astronomical operation here,” astrophysicist Fernando Comeron, ESO’s Representative in Chile, told me during a recent visit to ESO’s offices in Vitacura, a tony enclave of Santiago.

To its credit, ESO never rests on its laurels. When I first arrived here two decades ago during research for my book “Distant Wanderers,” I was amazed that even before ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) was finished, there was already talk of the next big thing.

Initially, that next big thing was to be a 100-meter Overwhelming Large Telescope (OWL). But after several years of study, ESO put that concept in stasis and instead pursued a project that it felt was more practical and technologically feasible. Thus, in 2014, ESO broke ground for its European-Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT) at Paranal Observatory in northern Chile’s Atacama desert.

Due for scientific first light in November 2024, once completed it will be the world’s largest optical/infrared telescope. That is, a $1.4 billion behemoth with a 39.3-meter primary mirror; itself a composition of 798 individual 1.4-meter segments.

The best telescopes in the world are now in the Southern hemisphere , says Comeron, noting that the Chilean government takes its responsibility in preserving observing conditions very seriously. In fact, he says, even through the country’s turbulent political history, ESO continued to function here.

“We have 50 years of dealing with the Chilean government and it’s been a very fruitful relationship and is not subjected to changes of government or politics,” said Comeron.

Credit: Francisco Rodriguez Irigoyen/ESO. Fernando Comeron, the European Southern Observatory’s Representative in Chile, and author at ESO’s Santiago offices.

And more are coming. The E-ELT and other new telescopes being built in Chile, like the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) and the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT), are forever changing the Chilean astronomical landscape.

“The Chilean astronomy community is growing; universities are opening undergraduate and graduate programs in astronomy and attracting international researchers to be part of their institutions,” Barbara Rojas-Ayala, an astronomer at the Universidad Andrés Bello in Santiago, told me.

What makes Chile so astronomically special?

Very dry northern deserts which border a lengthy coastline and the Humboldt Current.

The Humboldt Current, sometimes referred to as the Peru Current, is a 550-mile-wide cold ocean current that originates in Antarctica and runs north along the South American coastline. Its temperatures help keep Chile’s northern desert air even drier. Cloud cover is confined to altitudes of about 3000 feet, says Comeron.

As a result, he says you find very dry conditions at much lower altitudes in Chile. But it’s also [...]

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Thu, 18 Jan 2018
Defective airbags: Bakkies, cars to be recalled in SA

The South African auto industry is affected by ongoing defective Takata airbag recalls.

One of the automakers affected is Toyota with models such as its previous generation Hilux bakkie.

The safety recall is to replace defective and potentially deadly Takata airbag inflators. Toyota SA issued a recall and special service campaign in July 2017.

In 2015, Toyota SA said it would replace airbag inflators in its Corolla, RunX and Yaris models (built from 2002 to 2007) and in its Rav4, Hilux and Fortuners (from July 2003 to December 2005).

Recall notice to local Hilux owners 

In a letter to customers, sent to us via a reader, Toyota said: “Our records show that your vehicle is fitted with a Takata airbag, which could be defective over time and pose a danger to driver and other occupants. As a result of these findings, Toyota has decided to recall all vehicles fitted with this range of airbags to ensure the safety of its customers.”

According to the Associated Press, Takata’s inflators can explode with too much force and hurl shrapnel into the vehicle. At least 20 people have died worldwide and more than 280 have been hurt. To date, no injuries or fatalities have been reported locally.

The ongoing Takata recall has affected thousands of vehicles globally and has included automakers such as Nissan, Honda and General Motors. Toyota SA states that the latest Takata recall issued in January 2018, “is not only limited to Toyota”.

Wheels24 is in possession of the text message Toyota has sent to customers:

“Toyota is dedicated to Customer Safety. As a result, Toyota has initiated a Recall Campaign for TAKATA Airbag Inspection or Replacement. We identified your Hilux Double Cab 2005-2016 is affected.”

The “2016” referenced in the sms refers to previous generation Hilux models.

Find out whether your Toyota is affected by entering your VIN on a search tool via 

An email sent to affected customers reads: “The automotive industry is facing an unprecedented challenge in the recall and replacement of millions of Takata airbag inflators across the world. We would like to assure you that Toyota South Africa Motors is committed to addressing the needs and concerns of our customers with vehicles affected by this issue.

“Please note that this recall is not only limited to Toyota as Takata is a global supplier to the motor industry at large.”

Toyota SA responds

Wheels24 reached out to Toyota SA for comment: “This serves to confirm that there is indeed an ongoing recall for the replacement of Takata airbags. Please note that this recall is not only limited to Toyota as Takata is a global supplier to the motor industry at large. We would like to assure you that Toyota South Africa Motors is committed to addressing the needs and concerns of our customers with vehicles affected by this issue.

“As you have rightly pointed out, Toyota is in the process contacting customers whose vehicles are affected. The protection of the drivers and passengers in our vehicles is our utmost concern, and we urge all owners of affected vehicles to seek repair immediately.”

On its local webpage Toyota SA  states: [...]

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Thu, 07 Dec 2017
N2 roadworks project reaches practical completion

From today, 5 December 2017, motorists have been able to enjoy travelling on the new lanes of the N2 between Borcherds Quarry Rd and the R300.

The Department of Transport and Public Works has now completed this R200 million freeway upgrade, which included the addition of a third lane in both directions.

Ride quality, safety and visibility are better. The carrying capacity of the road has improved with an extra lane on each side. This will benefit high-capacity buses and taxis, in particular, because the right-hand lane is a dedicated bus lane during peak periods.

Since the project began in January 2016, many people have benefited directly from the short-term employment and skills training opportunities that the project has delivered. Contract expenditure to date is R19,5-million for targeted enterprises, with about 22 300 person-days of work having been created for people residing in the City of Cape Town municipal area.

The Department is aware that the project created frustration for motorists while construction was under way. We would like to thank each of the 82 000 motorists that travel on this section of the N2 every day for their patience and understanding.

The second phase of the project – the construction of a bridge and interchange from Eisleben road onto the N2 – is in the planning phase.


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