Tag Archives: Chile

The Victor Blanco 4-Meter Telescope

June 15, 2016, Cerro Tololo

Today started very early!  We wanted to see the sunrise so we had to get up and hike up to the telescopes to before the sun came up.  It was worth the crazy hike!


M. F. Peterson (ACEAP/NSF)

After breakfast we had a tour of the telescopes at Cerro Tololo.  Of course, there is the Victor Blanco 4 meter telescope that is the Southern Hemisphere twin to the one at Kitt Peak, but there are also quite a few other smaller telescopes here.  They call this the “mushroom farm”.


M. F. Peterson (ACEAP/NSF)

These telescopes are run by everyone from Google to the Korean government to the University of Massachusetts.

However, the Blanco was the coolest of them all!  It was really neat to be standing next to the telescope that proved dark energy exists.

Here is the dark energy camera (DECam).


M. F. Peterson (ACEAP/NSF)

Below is the primary mirror, which measures 4 meters across.  This may not be as big as Gemini, but it’s still impressive.  I was standing about 25 feet in front of it to give some perspective.


M. F. Peterson (ACEAP/NSF)

Finally, here’s the other end of the Blanco.   All of the little rectangles on the near end are part of the COSMOS infrared camera.


M. F. Peterson (ACEAP/NSF)

After all that were treated to a spectacular sunset!


M. F. Peterson (ACEAP/NSF)

And it just kept getting better…


M. F. Peterson (ACEAP/NSF)

When we turned around, we had this view of the moon over the Andes.


M. F. Peterson (ACEAP/NSF)

Written By: Michelle Ferrara Peterson

The Coolest Thing About Gemini

June 14, 2016, Cerro Tololo

We started the day by visiting AURA Recinto to listen to presentations from staff in different scientific areas that all work for the observatory. It takes all sciences to make an observatory run.

We then loaded up and started our trek to Cerro Pachon and Cerro Tololo. Leaving the city of La Serena we saw many vineyards. As we continued into the foothills, it looked very much like the road to AstroCamp. However, the mountains grew a little bigger down here!


T. Spuck (AUI/NSF)

We went to Cerro Pachon first to visit Gemini South, an 8 meter telescope. This means that the primary mirror in this telescope is 8 meters (over 25 feet). In this picture taken by Tim Spuck, you can see that it takes 5 adults lying head to toe to cover the distance.

Besides being really big, the coolest thing about this telescope is the adaptive optics that it uses.


M. F. Peterson (ACEAP/NSF)

The silver box on the left labeled GeMS is the housing for the gigantic LASERs that help with the adaptive optics.


M. F. Peterson (ACEAP/NSF)

This is the business end of the telescope. These are the instruments. They have to be engineered to be able to handle moving around with the telescope. Not always an easy task. One last cool fact about this telescope is that the mirrors are coated with silver instead of the standard aluminum. This makes it more reflective in infrared. The views are incredible everywhere but especially from the top deck of this telescope.


M. F. Peterson (ACEAP/NSF)

Cerro Tololo, seen from Gemini


M. F. Peterson (ACEAP/NSF)

Gemini and the future site of LSST to the right (where the crane is)


M. F. Peterson (ACEAP/NSF)

Even the Andes Condors like the views from up here!

We ended the evening with some telescope viewing led by our wonderful host, Juan. He brought out an 11” and a 6” Celestron. Even with light cloud coverage, I can’t even begin to tell you how amazing the objects looked. Omega Centauri popped out of the sky as if we had 3-D glasses on. Amazing! The planets were just breathtaking. I always get excited by them, but holy cannoli were they clear!


J. Blackwell (ACEAP/NSF)

Here is an amazing picture taken by a fellow ambassador, John Blackwell.

Written By: Michelle Ferrara Peterson


A Haven for Stargazing

June 12, 2016, Observatorio Astronómico Andino

Today’s highlight was visiting our first of many observatories, the Observatorio Astronómico Andino (http://www.oaa.cl/en/) just outside of Santiago.  Unfortunately, it was cloudy.  However, that did not stop our wonderful hosts from putting on an incredible spread and showing us what astrotourism is all about.


Beautiful metal sculptures adorned the whole facility. Image courtesy of Observatorio Astronómico Andino.

The mountain retreat not only has some pretty impressive telescopes located in a very secluded area, but it is a breathtaking building as well. The owners spared little expense when designing and decorating this place.  They made it feel like a haven from the city to enjoy the stars.


Patio areas complete with propane heaters and a bar. Image courtesy of Observatorio Astronómico Andino.

It was supposed to rain, so initially the dome cover was kept on, but then our host decided to remove it to give us a feel of what it would be like if there were no clouds.

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M.F. Peterson (ACEAP/NSF)

June 13, 2016, AURA Recinto

Today we flew north to begin our journey of really big telescopes in a lovely city called La Serena.  


M.F. Peterson (ACEAP/NSF)

After we arrived, we went to the AURA Recinto (Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy).  This group manages the National Optical Astronomy Observatories which include CTIO, SOAR, Gemini, and LSST.  It was a very interesting afternoon.  We heard presentations from tourist observatories, teachers as well as staff from AURO.  Even though half of the room only spoke English and half the room only spoke Spanish, you could help but feel the passion that everyone possessed for astronomy education and outreach.  It was delightful.

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Photon detector (left), test chamber (right). M.F. Peterson (ACEAP/NSF)

After the presentations, we took a sneak peek tour of the machine and electronics shop.  It was so neat!  When stuff goes wrong or breaks, these folks create, fabricate and test new parts themselves.  (At right: a custom-built test chamber.)

And if you could look inside one of these engineer’s heads, this is what it would look like:


M.F. Peterson (ACEAP/NSF)

We finished the day with a visit to the Cerro Mayu Observatory.  It was a little cloudy but we still could see stars.  I took my first ever astrophotography pictures, coming soon!  Hopefully next time we will get a nice clear night and be able to see the Magellanic clouds. We’ll see what tomorrow brings, hopefully clear skies.

Written By: Michelle Ferrara Peterson

Hello from Chile!

June 10, 2016, Detroit Metro Airport

As I sit in on the floor in the middle of the Detroit Airport (gross, I know), my adventures in Chile seem real for the first time.  Since I found out that I had been selected for the Astronomy in Chile Education Ambassadors Program (ACEAP), it has seemed a little like a dream.

The Astronomy in Chile Educator Ambassadors Program (ACEAP) is a collaboration between AUI, the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, National Optical Astronomy Observatory, and Gemini Observatory, and is supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF 1439408). The program brings amateur astronomers, planetarium personnel, and K-16 (formal and informal) astronomy educators to US astronomy facilities in Chile. While at these facilities, ACEAP Ambassadors will receive extensive training about the instruments, the science, data products, and communicating science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) concepts. When they return home, the Ambassadors will share their experiences and observatory resources with schools and community groups across the US.

ACEAPlogoI sat on our dock in Northern Michigan where my summer vacation began a week ago and looked at Jupiter last night.  So many questions ran through my mind about this trip.  Did I pack enough warm clothes? Did I bring the right camera equipment?  Did I remember my toothbrush?  How much will I miss my boys?  But then I started to think about the reason I am going and I realized I am not even sure if I will be able to see Jupiter there.  I sure don’t know many southern hemisphere constellations.  Will we even be able to see any stars in Santiago?  Is there too much light pollution?  So many questions!

After landing in Santiago, I will spend the day trying to recover from the long night of traveling.  Please join me on my adventures and ask any questions you might want to know about astronomy in the Southern Hemisphere.  Adios!

June 11, 2016, Santiago, Chile

AndesSantiagoAfter 10 hours by plane, I have finally arrived in Santiago, Chile! Back in the days of Galileo, it would have taken the better part of a year to sail here from Miami.

There were a number of ACEAP Ambassadors flying in around the same time, so we all met at the airport and drove to the hotel together.  For a full list and biographies of all the ambassadors click here.

The first remarkable thing one notices about Santiago are the mountains.  They have a little snow on them because it is late fall here in the Southern Hemisphere.  (Photo: M.F. Peterson, ACEAP/NSF).

It’s a beautiful day with temperatures in the high 60’s.  After checking into our hotel we decided to walk around and see some of the city.  The second thing I noticed were the birds.  Once a biologist always a biologist, even though I am here as an astronomer.  We walked down to a beautiful park and saw flamingos!  Snow capped mountains and a park with flamingos, Santiago really has it all.


M.F. Peterson (ACEAP/NSF)

It is naptime for this sleepy traveler.  Until next time, may your skies be clear.

— Michelle Ferrara Peterson

P.S. My itinerary looks like this:

Sunday June 11 – Travel to an observatory near Santiago for a tour. Observatorio

Astronomico Andino  (http://www.oaa.cl/en)

Monday June 13 – Travel to La Serena. Presentations by 3‑4 tourist observatories, schools, etc.  Tour of the electronics and machine shops. Travel to tourist observatory (Cerro Mayu Observatory On the way to the Elqui Valley)

Tuesday June 14 – Travel to AURA Recinto.  Presentations by Gemini Science Staff.  Travel to Cerro Pachon (site of Gemini, SOAR, LSST).  Tour SOAR telescope.  Travel to CTIO.  Observing session with small telescope, binoculars and astrophotography.

Wednesday June 15 – Tour CTIO.  Presentations by CTIO Science Staff. Observing session with small telescope, binoculars and astrophotography.

Thursday June 16 – Travel to Calama and drive to San Pedro and prepare for our presentations.

Friday June 17 – Present and visit with multiple schools in the area.  Travel to ALMA.  Tour ALMA OSF site.  Tour and presentations by ALMA Science Staff.

Saturday June 18 – Travel to ALMA high elevation (16,500 feet) site.  Tour and travel back down to ALMA OSF.  Travel to and visit Reserve Nacional de Flamencos to see Pink Flamingos!

Sunday June 19 – Travel to Santiago and prepare for our presentations.

Monday June 20 – Presentations at Univsidad de Talca.

Tuesday June 21 –  Relax and enjoy Santiago.  Fly back to Detroit.


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