Thursday, August 30, 2012

More project! More Adventures! More in La Serena

The past week and a half has been generally great and filled with more trips to schools, more adventures, and more new friends. I'm starting to get comfortable here in my La Serena life, which I guess means it's almost time to leave. I head to Antofagasta next Tuesday or Wednesday, but until then, I hope to fit in a few more small trips and adventures. Over the next three days I'll be going to three observatories -- tourist observatory Mamalluca tonight, back to Tololo tomorrow with students from the Saint Mary School, and then to Las Companas on Saturday with some scientists I met this week.

But I'm getting ahead of myself... This week I went to different schools for Gemini's annual "Viaje al Universo" which is a whole week of outreach. They go to schools in the area every day of the week, and have activities for the students, teachers and families. Activities include talks by scientists, rocket-building and planetarium shows (which is what I was helping with). There are also posters and packets with information about the Gemini telescopes and light pollution. I really like how light pollution is woven into the outreach activities here, showing the connection between the observatories and the daily lives of people living in the cities nearby. A few pictures from the week:

rocket-building (and launching!) at a BEAUTIFUL school in the Elqui Valley
Daniel in the mobile planetarium
Because all the activities were planned out, there wasn't really the structure for me to do what I was doing last week, talking with kids one-on-one or in small groups. So, I've mostly been playing the observer role, going to the talks and demonstrations, and just listening at what the kids find interesting and what questions they have. I've found that they get especially excited when the discussion includes:
1. Black holes
3. Any cool videos or interactive clips

So nothing new or especially different from anything back home. I have noticed though that most talks I've seen include notions of what astronomy is, what astronomers do, and what technology is being used right in their nook of the world. Often they emphasize how special Chile is to scientists and why it has been chosen again and again for the sites of the major projects. Last week, I was talking to some 8th graders, and told them that because of this, there are a lot of opportunities for Chilean students to excel in the field. But in reality, I'm not sure how true this is. Most of the scientists I've met here have been from somewhere else (ahem, Europe and United States), and its unclear to me how many jobs are actually available for Chilean people or how common it is to study astronomy in school. The University of La Serena, for example, which is practically in the backyard of these major telescopes, doesn't even have an Astronomy department... Besides these wonderful outreach activities in schools, I wonder if the how much the Chilean people actually benefit from the presence of these telescopes. I'm sure this will be a question I continue to ask for the rest of my 5 or so weeks here.

Besides *PROJECT* related stuff, I've also been having some wonderful adventures in town. The best so far has been an epic day-trip bike-ride to Coquimbo, this time by myself. I found an excellent path to bike on instead of the crowded streets and sidewalks and then enjoyed a day at the STUNNING Fort of Coquimbo, climbing on the rocks, enjoying the view of both the ocean AND the Andes, frolicking around and taking a series of self-timer selfies.
By giant mountain bike, Betty, looking out at the ocean about halfway between Coquimbo and La Serena
An abandoned building in Coquimbo
Fort of Coquimbo. Could have spent all day there...

Other adventures have included:

Exploring the Parks of La Serena:
Pedro de Valdivia Parque which is also a zoo. Most of the animals looks very sad and caged, but these llamas roamed free.

Japanese Garden and park of La Serena
 And of course, adventures in Food:
Small bounty obtained for about $6 at the local faria (farmers market)

The papayas couldn't be eaten raw, so I made it into a syrup. Delicious, but need suggestions of what to put it on...
Oranges growing freely in the Elqui Valley
Incredible fried fish sandwich in Coquimbo

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