Night sky as seen from the Atacama desert

Amazon spies opportunity in Chile to gather data from world’s largest telescopes

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According to a Reuters report, Amazon is in talks with the Chilean government to discuss storing and mining astronomical data acquired from the giant telescopes located in the country.

Chile (and particularly its high altitude Atacama Desert) is regarded as one of the best places on Earth for astronomical observations, due to its very low cloud cover, dry air and lack of light pollution. The country is home to the Very Large Telescope, Atacama Large Millimetre Array, and the La Silla telescopes, with the Extremely Large Telescope preparing for first light in 2024.

Last week, the Chilean government announced that it begin to collect and store data from its telescopes in a cloud-based “virtual observatory”, although it did not give details of what would be done with this data or what companies may be involved in the effort.

According to Reuters, officials from InvestChile and astronomer Chris Smith who managed three US telescope projects in Chile have said that Amazon and the Chilean Economy Ministry are in talks to build an Amazon Web Services (AWS) data centre for the astronomical data, with a view to boosting Amazon’s data analytics capabilities and its South American business.

According to the sources, Amazon’s executives have been discussing the project with Chilean officials for two years. Amazon already provides a cloud platform for data collected from the Hubble Space Telescope.

Amazon would provide the infrastructure to house and mine the enormous amount of telescope data available in Chile, which could allow the company to develop new machine learning tools. These tools would not be restricted to astronomical research, but could also be used to track endangered animals, shoplifters and other petty criminals and search for outliers in medical and financial datasets.

Jeffrey Kratz, the Amazon Web Services manager responsible for the project, confirmed that talks had taken place but said that Amazon had no announcements to make.

“Chile is a very important country for AWS. We kept being amazed about the incredible work on astronomy and the telescopes, as real proof points on innovation and technology working together,” Kratz told Reuters. “The Chilean telescopes can benefit from the cloud by eliminating the heavy lifting of managing IT.”

This week, Amazon became the world’s second trillion dollar company, following Apple earlier this year. Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder and CEO, has expressed an interest in using his unequalled personal wealth to promote space exploration and space tourism; in 2000, he founded Blue Origin to develop the necessary technologies for affordable private human spaceflight.

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