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

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