Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Amateur Astronomy Congress

During the last week I attended to one of the events which brings together to different people who love Astronomy in Chile: the Amateur Astronomy International Congress (CIAA for short, in spanish) in its 18th version

All the attendees of the CIAA2015 in the Planetarium of Santiago. 
Picture courtesy of my friend Francisco Segura. 

Was held in Santiago between 14 to 17, October and was organized by the Telescoperos Ricardo González, a very enthusiastic group of amateur astronomers who build their own telescopes and also do differents activities related to the education/outreach of Astronomy. 

I collaborated to the organization in two of the previous versions of CIAA in La Serena (2009) and Vicuña (2010). This year was my first time giving a presentation, talking about general information about Supernovae and my work as observer for the Carnegie Supernova Project. 

I shared some important facts about my collaboration to the CSP astronomers.
Picture courtesy of my friend Danilo Soto.

Teachers, students, professional and amateur astronomers enjoyed didactic activities as solar observation with optical and radio telescopes, the construction and use of simple spectroscopes, learning of  some scientific experiments with simple elements and the mobile planetarium provided by the Cerro Tololo Interamerican Observatory.

A group of high school students with their teacher (left) and Daniel Munizaga of CTIO's mobile planetarium (right).
In the center and crouching is Roberto "Caylo" Zepeda, one of the main persons in the realization of this CIAA.
Picture courtesy of my friend Francisco Segura.

Teacher Juan González and his students talked about their research 
in archaeological sites near to the town of Illapel (southern La Serena), 
where would exist a natural sculpture related to the equinoxes. 

The professional contributions to this congress came from the "Master lectures" by Dr. Patrice Bouchet (France), Dr. Gabriel Bengochea (Argentina) and Dr. Luis Paredes (Chile), giving a good opportunity to interacting and feedback.

Also, we visited to the National Astronomical Observatory of the University of Chile. A beautiful experience to know one of the oldest observatories installed in Chile and its different telescopes.

The historical Gustav Hayde refractor telescope.

Solar observations before the sunset.

Personally, was a very great experience be part of this CIAA, reuniting with old friends and to meet new ones. The helping hand from professional persons and the conversations with different people from other regions in Chile and Latin America. I keep very positive memories about this congress and I will be always thankful with the organising commitee and their warm and friendly reception.

Congratulations to the Telescoperos Ricardo González group and thank you so much for this great congress!!!

The next CIAA is hosted by the Astronomical Society of Valparaíso and Viña del Mar (SAVAL, for short) and will be held in the first week on October, 2016 in the beautiful city-port of Valparaíso. This version celebrates the 60th anniversary of SAVAL and its contribution to the outreach of the Astronomy to the local community.

Best wishes for the organising commitee and I hope to be part in this celebration. :)

Friday, October 2, 2015


I’m late with this blog post. I started it when we were at Las Campanas during a cloudy night when the dome was closed (but the night ended and I couldn’t post what I had written), then I started it again in my dorm at El Pino (but that blurb became irrelevant). So, I’m writing this on a flight from Lima to New York (our second connecting flight) and won’t even be able to post this until I’m back in the United States. Lesson learned about blogging: timing is key.  

This past week has been an interesting one, and I can’t quite think about the “perfect” post to capture my first observing experience at Las Campanas. But this isn’t anything different from what I’ve been experiencing lately. It feels like every time I set out to do something, I get caught up and don’t accomplish what I originally set out to do. I guess that’s just a side-effect of the “I’m almost done with undergraduate and am putting in grad school applications and it feels so raw” phase of my life. It’s a vulnerable time, when everyone expects you to succinctly describe who you are and what makes you special in 1,000 words or less. And here I am, trying to express what made this particular observing experience so special in a limited space. Well, where to begin?

As my long-term research partner and good friend, Sara Camnasio, mentioned in her post, we were able to make this trip via support from a National Geographic Young Explorers Grant. I had no idea what to expect from Chile. In fact, I wasn’t even thinking much about it until less than 24 hours before my flight - after I had survived my physics GRE. Other members of my team (Jackie Faherty, Sara Camnasio, Haley Fica, and Lil BD) have written here about the bad weather that cut into our observing time.

Haley Fica (left), Sara Camnasio (center), & me (right) looking up
at Baade from the tunnel underneath it

Perhaps the most striking part of my time at LCO was the fact that the atmosphere - in the control room and in the casino - was so different from the other observatories I’ve been to. I’ve observed at Kitt Peak and from the summit of Mauna Kea, but Las Campanas by far had the best poetry. The casino was busy at lunch and dinner, and we always had something interesting to talk about with the others. The kitchens up at the telescopes were always well-stocked (and re-stocked, thanks to the three Cookie Monsters...oops!) Amidst the high winds, humidity, and clouds that kept the domes closed, good company and exciting excursions kept up our enthusiasm. We explored the tunnel between the Baade and Clay telescopes, put our knowledge of world capitals to the test, and went outside in the cold to look at the Milky Way. Being on the mountain, surrounded by a community of engaging astronomers, truly reiterated for me the exact reasons why I want to be part of the world’s community of astronomers. I guess if I could sum up my LCO experience, I would borrow inspiration from one of the delicious cookies I first enjoyed up at the telescope: Maravilla.

National Geographic Young Explorers take La Serena

A first time Observer

Visiting Las Campanas was probably one of the most fun things I have ever done. I can honestly say that. I think one of the things that surprised me the most was how welcoming everyone was. Everyone we met wanted to talk to us about science, about the instruments, about what we wanted to do. I was shocked by how much people took an interest in what such young researchers are doing. Not because we aren’t awesome *hair flips* but because sometimes you meet really successful people who have no interest in students, which ultimately is their loss. But I never had that feeling while visiting Las Campanas. Everyone was kind, interesting, and just all around good people. 

Jackie Faherty shows Munazza Alam and Sara Camnasio up to
the Magellan while I follow behind taking photos. 
I am very green to the astronomy research scene. I have approximately four-ish months of research under my belt, which is to say, not very much. Any form of research can be daunting, but especially astronomy. The vocabulary, the instruments, the coding are all extremely new things to me and come with a steep learning curve. I remember during my first week of research and doing the ole smiling and nodding business to try and make it seem like I knew what I was doing. 

If I’m being honest, I really didn’t. 
But, you prevail and move on. 

I ended up doing data reduction from the FIRE instrument on Baade, so I’ve gotten pretty familiar with it over those past four months. But really seeing FIRE, in the flesh, or rather in the metal, was unreal to me. I never really thought that I would be able to use it from the observing end.

Jackie while she checked
the dome for ice
But the day had come and while Munazza, Sara, and myself were finally getting settled into the chairs in the control room, trying desperately to hide the actual amount of cookies we had each eaten (it was not a small number), we were plagued with the horrible and malicious things that are clouds. 

Maybe I shouldn’t call them malicious per say, they just wanna be alive too I guess. 

Regardless, the overwhelming clouds and the following ice that covered the dome was something that I didn’t really expect. Logically speaking I know that you can’t see anything when there is something in your way, but most people, or maybe just me?, think that something such as a measly cloud can’t bring down the reign of the ultimate 6.5 m Baade telescope!!!!

wrong. so wrong. 

But, you prevail and move on. 

The first night on Baade we never even opened the dome. But I still had a really awesome time. I got to get to know Munazza, Sara, and Jackie even more than I had before, and I got to eat almost my entire weight in cookies and avocado-covered sandwiches. 

The next night we got about half way through a 2 hour observing target when the infamous clouds began to roll in. 

We closed. But at least we got to do at least a little bit of observing. 

Munazza, myself, and Sara tour the dome
We ended up touring the under belly of Magellan. There is a huge hallway that leads from Baade to Clay that has all of the replacement parts for all of the instruments. 

To say the inner MacGyver in me wasn’t very very excited, would be an understatement.   

We actually did, eventually, open the dome again and take real data, and with FIRE too. Although we didn’t take as much data as we all would have liked, it was still incredible to see FIRE in action, despite our horrible seeing conditions. I learned a lot and I feel like I am closing in on that steep learning curve. Slowly inching my way towards the time when I will no longer have to smile and nod my way through things. 

It’s a slow tedious process but ultimately very worth it, until you move on to another astronomy subfield and the vocabulary starts all over again. 

But like all the things that are worth it in life, you prevail and move on. 
Jackie, Munazza, Sara, and myself after seeing
where the GMT is going to be placed

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Good memories...

Between November, 2012 and September, 2015 I was part of the team of the Carnegie Supernova Project as observer and research assistant. To make honour to all the good memories of that work, I want to share some time lapses videos made two years ago, with multi exposure pictures and using the simple technique of camera with tripod.

February, 2013: Two time lapse videos of different moments in the same night.  Is interesting, in the video of Du Pont Telescope, how the brightness of the sky is changing due to the moonset. 

May, 2013: A beautiful rising of the Milky Way center behind the Magellan Telescopes and, in the foreground, my "Second home" in that moment: the Swope Telescope. 

October, 2013: A view of Chile Highway 5 (Also known as Route 5, part of Pan-American Highway). Can see the amazing constellation of Scorpius with Venus and the Milky Way center. Thanks to the moonlight the landscape and the movements of vehicles can be appreciated.

I have a lot of pending pictures of 2014 and 2015 to edit and publish in my 500px account. The Astrophotography is one of my hobbies and is fun when I can take pictures during my free time at this beautiful place and with a simple equipment.

In all videos, the music of my very dear friend and fellow Morus is included. If you are interested about his space and instrumental music can visit his Soundcloud site.

See you in my next post :)