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Climber Sean Dougerty to Run World’s Largest Telescope

Sean Dougherty is astrophysicist from the South Okanagan in B.C. wo is about to take over managing the world’s largest telescope in Chile.

Dougherty, best known by many for authoring Selected Alpine Climbs in the Canadian Rockies, has been running the Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory in Kaleden, B.C. But starting this month, he’ll be living in Chile as the director of the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) Observatory.

ALMA is a state-of-the-art telescope located in the Atacama Desert in northern Chile. It is the largest ground-based astronomical project in existence.

“I threw my hat in the ring not really thinking,” said Dougherty to Sarah Penton, host of CBC’s Radio West, about his new job to study some of the furthest galaxies in the universe.

“I’m from Sleepy Hollow in the South Okanagan and they asked me if I’d take the job. It was overwhelming in the sense that this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

Dougherty, who has a PhD in astrophysics from the University of Calgary, served as a Canadian member of the ALMA board for two years.

Sean Dougherty at ALMA in Chile Photo CBC/Dougherty

He will run the operations in Chile and be in charge of operations in North America, Europe and Japan.

He and his family will be moving to Chile for the five-year contract. He told Penton, “It’s a fantastic family adventure.

“It’s the kind of opportunity you’re not going to get asked to do every day, that’s for sure. I realized if I didn’t take the chance, I would always be thinking what would have happened if?”

Dougherty was on a number of first and second ascents in the Canadian Rockies and in B.C. In 1992, he made the second ascent of The Wild Thing V 5.9 A2 with Joe Josephson and Grant Statham.

Sean Dougherty on Importance of Being Earnest in 1986

In 1985, he attempted the north face of Mount Alberta with Dave Cheesmond and Alex Lowe.

In the Bow Valley, he made the first ascents of the fingery Importance of Being Ernest 5.12a the steep Mr. Olympia 5.11d.

The observatory is found on the Chajnantor plateau in the Chilean Andes. It has 66 high-precision antennas over 16 kilometres. The goal of ALMA is to study star formation, molecular clouds and the early universe.