Austrian journalists visit ESO

— Christoph Saulder

From November 19th to 23rd 2012, a mixed group of Austrian journalists (from newspapers, radio, television and online) visited some of the ESO sites. First they went to Paranal, followed by a visit to ALMA, and on Friday November 23rd they returned to Santiago de Chile to see the ESO offices in Vitacura. As the only Austrian astronomer working at ESO-Chile, I was assigned as the group’s tour guide for the facilities here.

At first I showed them the common areas in the main building such as the cafeteria, the garden, the lecture halls and the library in order to familiarise them with the daily life of an astronomer here. Furthermore, they had a look at the offices here, too. Many of them noticed the pretty astronomical pictures hanging around the inside of the building and asked me for the names of the objects. In about half the cases, I had no idea at all, which was a little embarrassing!

During the tour, the journalists questioned me about the life in Chile, the future of astronomy (for example, about the E-ELT) and about my own background. I also introduced them to the ALMA building, where someone from there took over the tour for a few minutes. In the meantime, I had to do several shots with the TV team. After the tour of the ALMA building we returned to the ESO building, where a room was arranged so that I could be interviewed. I had five journalists sitting around me and asking me random questions ranging from my home town, some general astronomy questions of public interest (exoplanets, alien life, dark energy and dark matter) to the details of my own research. I have to admit that the journalist working for a public radio station really did his homework, and even knew the name of the author of the theory which I am testing in my PhD thesis, without me having mentioned it! All the questions were surprisingly sophisticated, in contrast to the ones of a high-ranking Austrian diplomat I had the pleasure to deal with a couple of month ago.

During this interview, only journalists from the newspapers, one news website and one radio station were present, while in the meantime the TV team was looking for a nice spot for their own interview. They settled for the garden behind the main building. After the exhausting cross-examination of the five journalists, I was almost looking forward to the TV interview where I only had to face one! This changed quickly. I had to follow several stage directions, I was not allowed to look directly into camera, and we had to move the chairs several times during the interview in order to have the best light. Furthermore, I always had to repeat the question which I was asked in my own answer and, of course, as soon as I made a tiny mistake, we had to redo the entire last part of the shot! This was a strong contrast to the radio interview, where I only had to repeat the last sentence if I got a little be lost in the answer. Moreover, the questions of the TV interview were almost as detailed a the ones of radio interview and some of them were surprisingly personal, like my own religious views. After we were done with this interview, I returned to my office, where I was filmed whilst pretending to work — zooming in and out on a nice picture of the ‘cosmic web’ is not the work any astronomer usually does unless he or she gets really bored!

The visit was concluded with a short visit to the roof of the ESO building, where the camera team took some shots of Santiago and the Andes for later use in cut scenes.


Editor’s Note:

Some of the resulting work of the visiting Austrian journalists can be found at the following websites (in German):-

The newspaper ‘der Standard’ has a blog about the entire visit… Click here

A blog by another journalist, who took pictures at ALMA and Paranal… Click here

Two sets of articles covering the entire visit, and providing additional background information on the website of the Austrian public broadcasting company, ORF… Click here and here

There are more things yet to be released (the radio and TV interviews with Christoph, and an article in the newspaper ‘Kurier’), and I will add links to them as soon as they become public.


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