Thursday, October 18, 2012

Volando vengo, volando voy

(NOTE: this is my first post using my little smartphone, so I apologize in advance for any typos or formatting issues.)

I'm currently at the Antofagasta airport, preparing to embark on the 24+ hour journey to my next destination. It's been an amazing past few days, and I couldn't think of a better way to say goodbye to this wonderful country.

Saturday I joined the Baquedano kids and crew for their trip to Cerro Paranal, home to ESO's VLT (Very Large Telescope... I know, Europe has some creative naming schemes. Next ESO project: the ELT -- Extremely Large Telescope. I kid you not.)
At the VLT, ESOs Very Large Telescope, Cerro Paranal
The VLT is in fact four 8.2m diameter telescopes that either work individually or together as an interferometer. Their large size combined with cutting edge technology, including adaptive optics which correct for the atmospheric turbulence, make the VLT known as one of the best observatories in the world.And the kids seemed to enjoy it as well. We had the chance to stay past the normal tourtime and see the opening of the domes. It was kind of magical -- all of the students, for no apparent reason, were mostly silent as we all waited for the gears to turn and the telescope to rotate. As the giant mirror turned to look at us directly, it was like looking in the eye of a giant, powerful monster. I know I was amazed. I hope the kids were too.
Sunset at the VLT with Rocio, astro student and Baquedano activity organizer
The students in front of one of the 8.2m mirrors
Sunday I went back to San Pedro de Atacama for Noche Zero, an interdisciplinary conference about light pollution. The point of the conference was to discuss the issues of light and dark from all points of view: design, science, environmentalism, public health and public policy. I heard about the conference in late August and desperately wanted to go, but couldn't afford the $600 ticket price. After getting in touch with the organizers, though, I managed to get a volunteer position with the ESO astronomers running the conference's public outreach event.
My official conference badge

The conference was such a positive experience overall. Each speaker brought something different to the table, and I learned a lot about light, design and policy.
For the conference, I had the opportunity to stay here, at the dorms for APEX (ESOs submilimeter scope in the ALMA neighborhood). Really nice place with a beautiful view!
And the outreach event went wonderfully! There were activities for kids of all ages, including building solar system models, doing lunar phase and eclipse demonstrations, and taking a tour of some stunning ESO images. I had a blast being a part of it, and the students and teachers all seemed to enjoy it, too.
Building Solar System models. We also had pictures of the sizes and distances to scale, so as not to give misinformation about the scale of our Solar System.
After the conference, I had just enough time to go back to Antofagasta, pack, and have one more game night with my roommates before leaving for the airport this morning.
Roomies, Chilean flag, and Allie the Aly
It's been an excellent adventure in Chile and I'm proud of what I've  accomplished. I've talked with students from all kinds of educational backgrounds, visited most of the major observatories in Chile, and have had some adventures along the way. I feel so grateful for all of the people who made my time here so great and am feeling excited and confident about the next leg of my journey.

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