Astronomy educators to rendezvous in Chile

Members of the Astronomy in Chile Educator Ambassadors Program are heading to Chile for a tour of its great observatories, July 27 to August 5, 2019.

Twilight scene of dish-type radio telescopes on a high plain in the Chilean Andes.

The view from the ALMA Webcam – at Chajnantor plateau in the Chilean Andes – on July 14, 2019, via NRAO/ Robert Pettengill.

How crazy does an astronomy group have to be to head to Chile in late July of 2019, missing this month’s July 2 total solar eclipse, also in Chile? The members of the Astronomy in Chile Educator Ambassadors Program (ACEAP) 2019 cadre will be answering that question this July 27 through August 5, as they visit locations in Chile like the ALMA telescope array, above.

Diplomatic license plates are not part of the deal of being an astronomy ambassador; our cars still get towed. We are scientific and cultural ambassadors, a bit like Marco Polo was once for Kublai Khan. The team will have backstage access to the great observatories of Chile and the scientists and staff that keep them running. On our return, we share what we’ve learned along with our experiences with the people and country of Chile with the curious public that makes these observatories possible. ACEAP ambassadors include teachers, planetarium educators, and amateur astronomers from across the United States and Chile. Communicating our experiences strengthens the bonds of collaboration and understanding between America and Chile.

Nearly every week we hear of new discoveries made by astronomers with these world-class instruments. Chilean President Michelle Bachelet has announced that by next year Chile will host 70 percent of the world’s astronomical infrastructure. With the darkest skies in the world, Chile is full of opportunities for professional and amateur astronomers. The ACEAP team will see how private observatories cater to growing numbers of amateur astronomers who visit Chile for its dark skies, learn about Chilean culture and aid astronomical educators training the next generation of scientists in Chile.

The 2019 ACEAP team’s travels will range from Santiago to the far north Atacama. Participants will visit Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (CTIO), Gemini South, see the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) under construction, and visit the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) array site at 16,500 feet (5,000 meters). At each location seminars with observatory staff will cover present and future science, public outreach, and access to observational data.

Preparations have included training in communication skills, astrophotography, and high altitude health. The team is very interested in the astrophotography opportunities on the trip and there has been lots of discussion about the photography equipment to bring.

A suitcase full of camera equipment with a passport.

Here’s what I’m packing for Chile. Photo by Robert Pettengill.

The preparation is over, and we rendezvous in Santiago on Saturday, July 27. You can follow the adventures of the team in near real time on your favorite social media platform. Look for tags #AstroAmbassadors and #ACEAP2019 for adventures of the entire team. I’ll be posting to BadAstroPhotos pages on accounts on FaceBook, Twitter, and Instagram. Follow any of those to see my daily posts.

The Astronomy in Chile Educator Ambassadors Program is a collaboration between Associated Universities Inc., the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, the National Optical Astronomy Observatory, and Gemini Observatory, and is supported by the National Science Foundation. Thanks to Tim Spunk of AUI (PI) and Charles Blue of NRAO (co-PI) and their team for putting this project together and getting us ready.

Bottom line: Members of the Astronomy in Chile Educator Ambassadors Program (ACEAP) 2019 cadre will be touring the great observatories of Chile July 27 through August 5, 2019.

Rob Pettengill

MORE ARTICLES