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COVID-19 closes the SONG telescope in Tenerife

The automated SONG telescope in Tenerife does not require on-site staff to conduct the observations of stars, yet the Corona virus has forced the leaders of the SONG project to shut down the observatory for at least two weeks.

2020.04.01 | Michaela Louise Thulesen

Photo: Mads Fredslund Andersen

The COVID-19 pandemic, which is currently shutting down the world, is now also forcing the SONG project to shut down star observations. The project, which is led by staff at Aarhus University, is a network of telescopes in several places on Earth. The first telescope in the network is located in Tenerife, where, every night, as long as the weather permits, it observes stars to astronomers around the world. Right up until now

The government of Spain has introduced new restrictions due to the corona virus, which means, among other things, that staff at the observatory are not allowed and all non-essential work is stopped. The telescope on Tenerife works completely automatically, but there should always be the opportunity to contact someone on site in the event of an emergency, and this may not be the case now. Thus, SONG must be kept closed.

”It doesn't surprise me that we now have to keep closed, but I had a little hope that since we only need one contact person on standby, it was possible to keep the observatory running," says the SONG manager Mads Fredslund Andersen.

The shutdown affects various researchers, including researchers and students from the University of Aarhus, who have been assigned SONG observation time right now and who thus cannot get the data they want. One of them is PhD student Emil Knudstrup, who needs to follow a specific exoplanet candidate from the TESS satellite, which is just now visible from Tenerife and interesting to investigate further.

"It affects the astronomers who have been assigned observation time with our telescope on Tenerife during this period, but of course we take no chances with neither manpower nor the safety of our equipment. So when it was decided that there should be no staff at the observatory, we decided in collaboration with our colleagues in Tenerife to shut down the SONG telescope,” explains Mads Fredslund Andersen.

The announcement is initially that the observatory must be closed to minimum April 9th.

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