— Julien Milli
A large-scale outreach event was organised in the city of Talca, 250km South of Santiago. Supervised by ESO student Daniela Barria, she gathered around her a dream team in order to give the expected 100 children and their families a taste of astronomy, and perhaps even trigger scientific vocations – “Astronomy!” was indeed the spontaneous answer from Bernardo, a five-year-old child asked by Bruno about his dream for a job, just after the successful launch of his water rocket!
The rocket launch sessions were undoubtedly the most popular event, ending in laughter, excitement and wet clothes for those daring to stand too close to the launch pad!
The team consisted of volunteers from ESO and Universidad Andres Bello, amateur astronomers from the astronomy society of Vina del Mar (Saval), and local organisers from La Fundacíon Gestion Vivienda. This non-profit organization aims at building social-housing neighbourhoods and improving the inhabitants’ every-day life. It is deeply committed in the city of Talca, which was severely damaged after the 2010 earthquake.
Despite all this good will, the team was not that enthusiastic on the way to Talca with a cloudy sky above our heads (probably the first over more than a month!). However, luck was definitely on our side that day as the sky eventually cleared in the afternoon, enabling the observation of the sun to take place in the main square of Talca. Children were as curious as their parents behind the telescope with a dedicated filter, when it came to watching the few sun spots visible on the solar surface.
At the same time, children had the opportunity to become space engineers for an evening and build satellites with chief engineer, Oscar, make antenna for the radio telescope ALMA with operation manager, Joanne, or design space rockets with NASA chief-of-safety, Bruno. Young artists could also build a scale model of the solar system, under the supervision of spacecraft manager, Daniela. As well, star-gazers could build sky maps with chief scientist, Julien, to help them find their way for their journey into the Milky Way later on in the night.
The sky had now progressively cleared such that the first bright stars appeared above the square, indicating it was time to take the telescope out. As the ESO eight-inch Meade telescope seemed reluctant to operate, the members of the Saval astronomy club pointed their home-made Dobson telescope towards the beauty of that night: Jupiter and its moons. The journey then carried on out of our solar system, first to the closest star, Alpha Centauri, right above the square. After digressing on extrasolar planet formation, we visited the Southern cross and passed by the wonderful Orion nebulae, to finally reach an open cluster in the Taurus region.
There ended this wonderful travel to the stars for the large group of children and their families… But the night carried on between ESO, Saval, and Gestion Vivienda members in a bar of Talca, in a joyful atmosphere!
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