A self-taught astronomer fell in love with the stars and built his own observatory in Colombia.
Tatacoa Astronomia isn’t the largest observatory in Colombia’s Tatacoa Desert, but it is certainly the most famous. Built by a Colombian who fell in love with the stars, the observatory has created almost a cult following among amateurs and professional astronomers alike.
Tatacoa is technically a semi-dry tropical forest, but its arid conditions and Mars-like landscape mean many tend to mistake the region for a desert. Its dry desert-like climate and proximity to the equator—it lies 3.2324° N and 75.1688° W—make it perfect for star-gazing. Tatacoa is also extremely isolated, meaning there is no light pollution from any neighboring towns.
In 2015, the observatory was opened by Javier Fernando Rua Restrepo, a self-taught astronomer who hails from Cali, and who fell in love with Tatacoa after traveling there as a university student. After saving up while working at the official government observatory, Restrepo decided to start his own and became so well known within astronomy circles that scientists sent him telescopes so he could adequately stock his observatory.
The small building, which lies behind a makeshift tarpaulin fence, attracts stargazers from around the world, who come to see the magnificent array of stars on offer. On some nights, every single constellation—all 88 of them—can be seen from Tatacoa.
Know Before You Go
Check the cycle of the moon. If it’s a full moon, the stars won’t be so bright, so it’s best to go when the moon is in its waning crescent phase. Keen astronomers shouldn’t miss Restrepo’s star party, a camping weekend with music and food, which he holds every July.
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