Category Archives: Other

Paradise exists and it is called Ponta Negra

Last March, our team member Diego Torres together with collaborators from the Museum of Astronomy and related Sciences (MAST) of the city of Rio de Janeiro, embarked on an amazing 3-day adventure to one of the most beautiful regions of the Green Coast in Brazil. Here is his account of this wonderful visit to a small school in the secluded beach of Ponta Negra (in Portuguese).

“Sem dúvida alguma, a visita a Ponta Negra (Paraty) foi uma das melhores experiências da minha vida!!

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No entanto, essa aventura, que tive o prazer de dividir com o Augusto e a Aline do MAST, não começou da melhor das maneiras. Para se chegar à Ponta Negra, praia paradisíaca onde aconteceriam as atividades do GalileoMobile, era necessário passar dentro de um condomínio (chamado Laranjeiras) onde haviam inúmeros imóveis de luxo pertencentes às maiores fortunas do Brasil e no interior do qual os moradores passeavam de helicóptero. Um mundo próximo porém completamente diferente daquele que iramos encontrar minutos depois. Apesar de não terem o direito de proibir a passagem dos turistas e moradores, o acesso aos barcos para Ponta Negra, por exemplo, é bastante dificultado pelos agentes de segurança, o que gera desconforto e desistência da parte de muitos turistas.

Quando chegamos à Ponta Negra, pouco antes do pôr do sol, parecia não ser verdade que este seria o lugar onde iríamos trabalhar. Fomos muito bem recebidos pela comunidade Caiçara que lá vive. Como moradores de uma cidade grande, habituados a não confiar no próximo, ficamos receosos de deixar o material (telescópios, etc) na praia enquanto procurávamos o lugar onde dormiríamos. Rapidamente percebi que não havia motivo algum para temer e senti um pouco de vergonha da minha própria desconfiança.

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As atividades do GalileoMobile eram complementares à Mostra Maré Cheia de cinema, que ocorre uma vez por ano em Ponta Negra e cujo tema de 2016 era a astronomia. Quando chegamos na praia, a infraestrutura estava sendo montada: o telão na areia e o gerador de energia elétrica (não há eletricidade em Ponta Negra!).

Sim, é possível realizar um festival de cinema de 4 dias com um gerador portátil!! A mostra de cinema começava ao anoitecer, sob a luz da lua, sem muita hora prevista. Aliás, a noção de tempo naquele lugar é um pouco distinta da nossa. Quando perguntávamos aos organizadores sobre o início das atividades, eles respondiam: “ah, acordem a gente lá pelas 9 da manhã…”. Na verdade, ninguém, exceto os “astronautas” – nosso carinhoso apelido em Ponta Negra- parecia se preocupar com relógios. Nos adaptamos rapidamente a esse estilo de vida.

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As atividades sobre o sistema solar e orientação através dos astros foi muito bem recebida pela equipe do cinema, que nos ajudou constantemente, e sobretudo pelas crianças. Eles ficaram impressionados com as distâncias interplanetárias! Porém, sem dúvida alguma, os momentos de maior troca eram durante as noites de observação do céu. Conversamos sobre física, astronomia, filosofia, origem da vida, do Universo, vida extra-terrestre com a população local, cineastas, advogados, engenheiros, professores, desempregados.. Cada um com um ponto de vista ou teoria mais interessante que a outra. Tive a impressão depois de cada conversa que poderia me tornar amigo próximo das pessoas com quem interagia. Nunca vi uma densidade tão grande de gente tão diferente, tão aberta e de bom coração. Isso tornou o nosso “trabalho” ainda mais gratificante.

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Segundo alguns turistas “a fila pra chegar ao telescópio e poder ver os astros estava maior do que montanha russa em parque de diversão”. Mesmo assim eles esperavam. Alguns um tanto tristes pois tinham acabado de descobrir que Plutão não era mais um planeta. Pudemos observar as 4 maiores luas de Júpiter. Os anéis de Saturno e Titã. Muitos se emocionaram de verdade e não paravam de nos agradecer. Era um sentimento mútuo. Ponta Negra é um lugar mágico porque é feito por pessoas mágicas. Espero voltar o mais rápido possível!!”

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A feast to the eyes and to the heart: the VLT as seen by a non astronomer

By Meghie Rodrigues

The first thing you notice when you approach the VLT (Very Large Telescope) is its size. No doubt this is ‘big science’ in all senses: the four main telescopes have mirrors measuring 8.2m in diameter and are housed in structures which are as tall as an eight floor building (25 m high) and as heavy as about a hundred Asian elephants (430 tonnes). It brings to mind that the old saying ‘bigger is better’ makes a lot of sense when it comes to optical astronomy – the bigger the mirrors used, the more light you get and the farther you can look into deep space.

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Two of the four main telescopes at the right and one of the auxiliary telescopes at the left

This is what I saw, along with other Brazilian journalists, in getting to Cerro Paranal, a mountain region located in the Atacama desert in northern Chile. The European Southern Observatory (ESO) runs a variety of telescopes in the region and the VLT is the biggest of them.

We were taken to more than 2,600 meters above the sea level in one of the driest places on Earth (lots of sunscreen, drinking water and winter clothing is highly recommended) where rain just falls for about two months a year and where you can see the clouds below your feet, kept from getting too close by the Andes range. Which is a good thing for observations: the lower the humidity in the atmosphere, the lower distortion you get in images – and the further you go from cities or places with artificial light, the darker and better it is to observe the sky. And yes, from the point of view of a Brazilian, nights are terribly cold at that altitude!

Days at Paranal are as bright as nights are dark, and the view of a rich diamond-studded black cloth extended high above your head during nighttime is a feast to the eyes and to the heart.

 

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Roof of the main telescope #2 (Kueyen) open to get the instrumentation ready for night observation

Named in Mapuche language – Antu (the Sun), Kueyen (the Moon), Melipal (the Southern Cross) and Yepun (Venus) – the telescopes can be used separately, each as a single instrument, or together, as what scientists call a ‘interferometer’. As such, it allows a closer look into many observation questions, including extra-solar planets – or planets outside our solar system –, the formation of stars and planetary systems as well as the surface of stars.

In talking to astronomers at Cerro Paranal, it wasn’t hard to see that ‘impressive’ applies not only to the size of the main telescopes but also to the science that comes out of them. The first image of an extra-solar planet, 2M1207, was one of them. Also, the oldest star we’ve seen in the universe up to now – which is said to be 13,2 billion years old, almost the age of the Universe itself – was found using the telescopes. Evidence of the accelerated expansion of the Universe also drew from many of the VLT observations.

 

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Mirror of the Kueyen telescope, 8.2m wide

So many hours of past and present observations are made by astronomers who are specialists in the many instruments VLT has – requested by other scientists from a wide range of fields in observational astrophysics spread all over the world. They give away their evenings and nights in a different kind of ‘star parties’: instead of our romantic idea of an astronomer peeping into a telescope in a cold night, they receive tons of data from different ultra-sensitive cameras installed in the telescopes. Barbara has given us an account of her own observations there some time ago and she gives us a great idea of how it all works. 🙂

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Astronomers in action in the VLT control room at the Interferometer console

It was, in the end, quite interesting to be able to see and think about some of the tendencies and routes ‘big science’ is taking in a world where scientific and political cooperation is key. Massive projects like the Thirty Meter Telescope, the Giant Magellan Telescope and ESO’s European Extremely Large Telescope rely on more than agreements between research institutions and universities – they also go for negotiation between governments and their institutions, taking the conversation to the arena of diplomatic relations. Conversation on this level means more solidity for projects, which is important especially when it involves billions of dollars or euros. After all, you can’t do ‘big science’ alone.

A visit to Mars Academy

By Sandra

Imagine you get to school one day, and instead of sitting through a tough class of math or history, your duty is to control a NASA mission looking at yet unseen regions of Mars! Would you like that? Well, then welcome to the Mars Academy!

Mars Academy is an outreach project designed by a team of NASA astronomers to inspire students from the ‘City of God’ neighbourhood in Rio de Janeiro, by exposing them to the latest knowledge regarding the Red Planet and attempt to raise their interest in science and technology. The astronomers will work together with local teachers at the INPAR (Instituto Prebisteriano Álvaro Reis de Assistência à Criança e ao Adolescente) school to offer the students a week of hands-on lessons covering different topics within astronomy and planetary science.

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After the first days covering introductory lessons, the students will submit targets for observation for NASA’s HiRISE camera, which will be sent to mission control at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. HiRISE is one of the most advanced instruments exploring our Solar System and has produced beautiful images of our mysterious neighbor. These novel images will bring new scientific knowledge and contribute to the progress in the field.

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Local scientists from Brazilian institutions, as well as two team members of GalileoMobile, will also participate in the experience and support the American team in their work with the students, taking care of language and logistics.

A team of film-makers will accompany the project and produce a documentary to share the students’ personal journeys of discovery and the lessons learned from this experience with other children, schools, and public around the world.

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As put by one of the leading astronomers of the project, Wladimir Lyra, “If we can inspire favela kids, if we can kindle that light and provide the seeds that will make them pursue science as a career and go to college, they will have broken the cycle. They will become success stories, their peers will see that it’s possible to achieve social mobility through education, and at some point we can turn the tide of the urban reality in Rio.”

Keep tuned to the Mars Academy facebook page for more information about the upcoming visit to City of God!

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