Astronomy in Chile Educator Ambassadors Program: Santiago & La Serena

Posted by Alison Klesman
on Thursday, June 22, 2017

The night sky over the Cerro Mayu Observatory, Chile. // All images: Astronomy: Alison Klesman

It’s been a busy week so far in Chile!

But first, a little more background: Why am I here in the Southern Hemisphere? I’m participating in ACEAP: the Astronomy in Chile Educator Ambassadors Program, supported by the National Science Foundation and run via a collaboration of Associated Universities, Inc. (AUI), the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), the National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO), and Gemini Observatory. 

This unique program has several interlocking goals. Not only does it highlight the value of investing U.S. dollars in world-class facilities in the country of Chile, it also allows the ambassadors who embark upon this trip and the Chilean communities they visit to build and foster lasting relationships. Through these relationships, people in both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres can work together to promote astronomy as a hobby, as a career, and as a fundamental way to answer questions both big and small. The night sky is shared by people across the world, and instilling a sense of wonder and of custodianship over this resource is the goal and the passion of each ambassador who arrived in Santiago earlier this week. 

This year, the program’s third year, I’m very lucky to serve as a media liaison for the program on behalf of Astronomy magazine. It’s my very first trip to Chile, though I grew familiar with many of the astronomical facilities during my years in graduate school. Now, I’m getting the chance to see firsthand the outstanding astronomy efforts being made in Chile today, from the 8-meter Gemini South Telescope to the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA).

We’ve been on the go since day one with a packed schedule, but each experience has been more memorable than the last. Honestly, the only thing there’s little time for is sleep – which is why I haven’t had the chance to sit down and blog before this, as I’ve jumped on every chance to catch a few spare z’s that popped up!

This morning, we’ve finally got a bit of spare time before we leave the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (CTIO) after two nights on Cerro Tololo.

I’ve already mentioned the busy schedule, but I’d like to highlight just a few of my favorite parts of the trip so far:

Astronomers can control the Gemini South telescope from the convenience and comfort of this control room in La Serena if they like.

- Visiting the Observatorio Astronomico Andino and the Cerro Mayu Observatory, where we spent time discussing astrotourism and astronomy education, as well as imaging the night sky. I saw my very first Southern Hemisphere sky from OAA, and took some amazing shots of it from Cerro Mayu, with some help from the experienced astrophotographers in our group! 

- Spending the afternoon at the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) headquarters in Chile, where we had the chance to speak with the staff about their education and outreach projects, as well as tour the electronics shop. We were able to see – and, in some cases, hold – detectors used to image the sky.

- Seeing the 4.1-meter Southern Astrophysical Research (SOAR) and the 8-meter Gemini South telescopes on Cerro Pachón; we even got to climb up the scope to see Gemini’s single-piece mirror and check out the amazing view from near the top of the dome.

- Touring CTIO, including getting an up-close look at the 4-meter Blanco telescope, the 2 Micron All Sky Survey (2MASS) telescope, and the SMARTS Consortium telescopes.

The view from inside the Gemini South dome.

Aside from the opportunity to crawl around the domes of these famous telescopes, I’ve also had a spectacular time getting to know my fellow ACEAP ambassadors. The group this year includes educators, photographers, planetarium directors, and outreach volunteers and coordinators, all extremely excited and passionate about bringing astronomy into the lives of people in the U.S., Chile, and throughout the world. As we travel, often in close quarters, we’ve engaged in talk, laughter, and song on our way from one location to the next. While I can’t pretend I’m not extremely excited about the remaining days of our trip – we’re going to San Pedro next to visit a few schools, then on to tour ALMA on Friday and Saturday! – I also have to admit that I’m really looking forward to getting home and taking advantage of all the connections I’ve made here to promote the projects and work of each and every ambassador I’ve met. I will also be turning my experience here into a full feature story for the magazine, which I’m ready to get home and write (well, following a couple full nights of sleep, probably).

The view this morning from Cerro Tololo - the clouds look like an ocean!

Since I can’t write everything down here, nor should I, I’d like to point you to some great resources as we continue our journey. You can find out more about our experiences so far and follow the remainder of our trip on Facebook, Twitter, and WordPress

Tags: aceap
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