Here you are inside the "J.Stock" Telescope at the National Observatory in Mérida, Venezuela. This is a Schmidt type telescope, basically a wide field telescope that makes it possible to take a "sky panorama". In driftscan mode you can get a "pano" two degrees wide by long as you have clear sky over your head. The main view is the CCD camera, an array of 16 CCDs that give a resolution of 64 megapixels, one of the biggest arrays of CCDs for use in astronomy in the world. Just in front of it is the mirror of the telescope with its 6 petals open. The three black pipes (runing from the mirror towards the camera) are Invar bars: they help to keep the focal plane between the camera and the telescope always parallel. If the temperature changes and the shape of the mirror changes, the camera moves in the same way. The silver pipes drive the cooling liquid to cool down the CCDs: they must work below -80° Celsius (-176° Fahrenheit) to keep the signal noise down.
South America makes up the southern half of the Americas and a large part of Latin America. It's home to the world's longest mountain range, biggest waterfall and largest river -- even these mammoths pale in comparison to the stunning variety of life forms thriving in the rainforest. To the northwest, off the coast of Ecuador, lie the Galapagos Islands, which are unique for hosting species not found anywhere else on earth. These were the subject of study for Charles Darwin in his theory of evolution, which he himself said will require proof in every single case. The main languages in South America are Spanish and Portugese, which basically tells you which European countries colonized the place. The South American wars of independence took place over two decades in the early 19th century, led by Simon Bolivar of Venezuela and Jose san Martin of Argentina. Following liberation from Portugal and Spain, South America took off into its own development, capitalizing on the rich deposits of oil, gold, copper, silver and tango musicians. Brazil is the largest country in South America and home to one of the world's best parties, Carnaval. Have you heard of samba music? How about bossa nova? Maybe dancing for three days straight? I can't say enough good things about South America. All the world's continents have amazing secrets and treasures laying in wait for your discovery, but in South America... just have a look at our pictures while you're waiting for online confirmation of your plane tickets to hit your inbox.Text by Steve Smith.