European Observatories in Chile Undamaged by Earthquake
The Auxiliary Telescope 4, part of ESO's Very Large Telescope Interferometer, on Cerro Paranal mountain.
Credit: VLTI/ESO

Several European-built observatories in Chile have escaped damage from the massive 8.8 earthquake that struck the South American country?s central regions Saturday.

The European Southern Observatory?s (ESO) three major telescope centers perched high up in Chile?s Atacama Desert have experienced power and communications interruptions due to the earthquake, but remain intact.

No injuries were reported at the telescope centers, though the massive earthquake has killed more than 700 and destroyed an estimated 500,000 homes in other regions, according to casualty reports. It is the seventh strongest earthquake recorded in history.

The earthquake?s epicenter was located 71 miles (115 km) north-northeast of the city of Concepción and about 201 miles (325 km) southwest of Santiago, Chile?s capital. ESO?s telescopes are engineered to withstand seismic events and were also far enough from the epicenter to escape significant damage, observatory officials said.

?ESO expresses its deepest condolences to the families of the victims, and its sympathy and support to all those affected by the earthquake,? ESO officials said in a statement.

ESO officials urged astronomers slated to visit Chile to use its three telescope facilities to put their plans on hold until further notice.

ESO has three main observatories, each with multiple telescopes, on the Atacama Desert at altitudes up to 8,530 feet (2,600 meters). They are located in the La Silla, Paranal and Chajnantor regions and include Europe?s Very Large Telescope and the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) — which is still under construction.

At La Silla, power cuts halted observations overnight on Saturday. Other instruments at Paranal were unaffected by the temblor.

ESO officials also plan to build a giant new observatory, the European Extremely Large optical/infrared Telescope in Chile. Its main mirror will be nearly 138 feet (42 meters) in diameter and the ?the world?s biggest eye on the sky,? observatory officials have said.