This photograph was produced by European Southern Observatory (ESO).

Columbia Professors to Make Contact with Astronomers in Chile

May 20, 2015

Columbia University astronomers are hoping three-day workshop in Santiago will help create stronger ties with colleagues in Chile as the country prepares to advance its already-leading position in the field.

The past few decades have seen an astonishing amount of investment in astronomical facilities in the mountains and deserts of northern Chile. The year 2020 represents a pair of landmarks on the horizon: more than two-thirds of the world's astronomical infrastructure will be in Chile by then, and this is the year the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope will begin operations on Cerro Pachón and begin imaging the entire sky every few nights to unprecedented depths.

To prepare for the arrival of telescope and to explore other joint interests, the Department of Astronomy at Columbia University and the Instituto de Astrofísica of the Pontificia Universidad Católica are jointly organizing a three-day workshop May 27 to 29, 2015, under the heading Teaming Up to Prepare for the Next Decade in Time-Domain Astrophysics: A Joint Columbia University - Pontificia Universidad Católica Workshop.

Marcel Agüeros, an assistant professor of astronomy, said the telescope's celestial movies will usher in the golden age of time-domain astrophysics and keep astronomers, statisticians, and computer scientists busy for years to come exploring the dynamic nature of our universe.

Agüeros is among a contingent of Columbia faculty planning to attend the workshop. He agreed to share more details about his hopes for the event and the opportunities it provides, during a conversation with with Gisele Feldman, the programs and communications officer for the Santiago Center.

Q – Tell us briefly what the purpose of the meeting is. What do you hope to achieve?
Astronomy in Chile is booming, and the Instituto de Astrofísica is a major reason for that. Given the opportunities for collaboration between Columbia and the Instituto de Astrofísica enabled by both the Santiago Global Center and Comisión Nacional de Investigación Científica y Tecnológica (CONICYT), this is an excellent time to explore how we can tighten our connections. My hope is that we will return from Santiago with new ideas for possible student and faculty exchanges and a handful of proposals for CONICYT or observatories in the US and Chile, thereby pushing the Instituto and our departments in new research directions.

Q – How will this meeting impact the work you are doing at the Columbia Astronomy Center? Why Chile?
By some estimates, by 2020 over two-thirds of the world's astronomical infrastructure will be in Chile. 2020 is also the year the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope will begin operations on Cerro Pachón and begin imaging the entire sky every few nights to unprecedented depths. Both the Instituto and Columbia are preparing for the arrival of this telescope, and this is a major theme for our workshop.

Q – When do you expect to see the first results from potential collaboration, and under what form?
In the short term, I hope that we will be able to point to some successful proposals whose genesis was the discussions during the workshop. But I think the more interesting results will be over the medium-to-long term, as both sets of astronomers have an opportunity to explore jointly new areas of interest. In astronomy we tend to measure things in terms of the numbers of papers published, and it would be great if in a few years we have a handful of papers with co-authors from the Instituto and Columbia. That is one of the reasons we are traveling with six of our PhD students–this is also about giving them the chance to develop long-term research collaborations!

Q – How do you imagine this venture to be in 10 more years?
I hope that 10 years from now we will be seeing a regular flow in both directions of students, post-docs, and faculty working on joint projects. It would be wonderful if our astronomy undergraduates got to spend some time during their degrees in Chile, and it would be equally exciting if we were able to attract Instituto de Astrofísica students to our PhD program, for example.