Twelve Earths
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Cerros Pachón & Tololo

Near the southern edge of Chile’s Atacama Desert—the driest place on Earth—the Andes Mountains roll endlessly over the horizon in every direction.






Nested above the cloud line in Elqui Province far from city lights are the twin ridge peaks of Cerros Pachón and Tololo, each gathering a cluster of intensely powerful observatories.

Taken together, they are among the most mythic and powerful scientific instruments humans have made; a complex of 17 international astronomical telescopes, including the famed Victor M. Blanco Telescope, SOAR and Gemini South.

Of these machines, the newest, and most powerful is the Vera C. Rubin Observatory. Now over 20 years in the making, it nears completion and will see “first light” in 2024.

Once commissioned, Rubin will begin a ten-year observation of the southern sky creating the deepest, widest, and most complete map of the universe ever created; redrawing our understanding of the cosmos, and our place within it.

The complexity of Rubin’s vast and interlocked systems live on the edge of material possibility. Yet its complexity belies the poetic, out-of-time simplicity of the observatory’s function—to help us see.  


Primordial photons from the limits of space will be collected, distilled, and bounced from Rubin’s massive reflecting mirror into the largest lens of the most powerful camera ever built.

Within the contours of this machinic eye, a small yet incredibly deep image of the cosmos is captured. The sum of these exposures collected over 4 nights are stitched together to compose the most detailed portrait of the cosmos ever generated.

This process is repeated again and again for a decade with each image—over 2 million in total—contributing a single frame to an epic film of the universe unfolding in real time; it’s seemingly stoic nature now animated with unseen change and transformation.

The result of this process will be the biggest scientific data set ever produced—a 500 petabyte library—one if transcribed into books, stacked side by side, would circle the earth 2000 times.

But even as Rubin exists at the edge of engineered possibility, it and its cousins atop Tololo and Pachón live on the shoulders of countless ancestral reverieres and tiny discoveries about the material world.

Understood as machines, these observatories chart a winding course back to the earliest flint tools. Understood pan-culturally, they live within a continuum of objects that have altered how we understand the nature of the world, and of being alive within it. Within Twelve Earths’ frame, the concept of  ‘observatory’ takes on metaphoric dimensions. 




For humans, at every stage of our journey on Earth, we’ve needed stories—folklore, myth, and science itself—to help grapple with what lies out-of-site; the invisible yet interdependent realities our lives are woven within.

The astronomical instruments on Cerros Pachón and Tololo exist with an ancient lineage of emergent devices that have helped shape our conception of the world, of Earth, and of us within it. In this way, these tools can more practically be seen not only as scientific… 


…but psychedelic in the ways they augment and propose new ways of seeing ourselves within the world; stretching our perceptions, our cosmic vision.

Cerros Pachón & Tololo
30°12’10.0″S 70°46’41.0″W
Twelve Earths c. 2017–2029
For deep dive announcement materials:
Image Credits: Rubin Observatory, National Science Foundation, Cerro Tololo International Observatory, AURA: Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, NOIRLab, Michael Jones McKean, D. Munizaga, Bruno C. Quint, H. Stockebrand