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Viaje al Universo and AstroDay Chile 2011 - Building Anticipation for 2012 and Beyond

8 Agosto 2011

Thanks to a partnership between Gemini South and the Extension Department of the University of La Serena as well as participation by the Municipality of La Serena and the Tourism Board (SERNATUR), the Viaje al Universo and AstroDay Chile programs introduced our Chilean host communities to Gemini (and astronomy) in exciting new ways. Already, anticipation is building for the 2012 programs.

Kicking off the week’s events, about 3000 kids, parents and public gathered for AstroDay Chile, which is one of the most significant public outreach astronomy programs in Chile. The AstroDay Chile program offered a variety of experiences thoughtout the day on Saturday, July 16th at the Extension Center of the University of La Serena (ULS). "It is very pleasing and impressive to see how each year there are more families coming to this event, even from other cities. I received very flattering comments and for us as a university it is a privilege to be part of this program," said center’s Director Catalina Cvitanic.

Over twenty scientific institutions participated as exhibitors at the AstroDay Chile event, with both Chilean and international organizations represented. Exhibits included an extremely diverse collection of projects and initiatives ranging from professional and tourist observatories to NASA educational efforts. In addition to informal interactions with presenters, participants filled the lecture hall and enjoyed talks by scientists from the European Southern Observatory, the Atacama Moon Mars Research Station, Sociedad Astronómica de Valparaíso y Viña del Mar (SAVAL), NASA Endeavour and (of course) Gemini. Just outside, more than 150 people participated in presentations using the StarLab mobile planetarium which included 3-D imagery. According to Alvaro Saavedra, an architect, who came in with a family group of 12 people, "It was really fascinating, unique experience which was first-class and also free!"

Immediately after the AstroDay Chile event, a week of visits to neighborhood student associations began, based on the program at Gemini North called “Journey Through the Universe.” The week included a wide variety of events, and it shared the expertise of Gemini scientists and the science of space exploration with students and the public.

Gemini staff members Rodrigo Carrasco, Felipe Colazo, Javier Fuentes, Percy Gomez, Pascale Hibon, Benoit Neichel, Pedro Ojeda, Kathy Roth and Erich Wenderoth visited the areas of El Olivar, Villa San Bartolome, Caleta San Pedro, Alfalfa, Las Tinajas, Vista Hermosa, and the rural area of Los Corrales. During these visits, presentations were augmented by rocketry workshops led by professionals from NASA Endeavour, Olimpiadas Libres de Colombia and Joan Rasé Observatory in Santiago.

Throughout the week, family events were held at the Extension Center of the ULS, Biblioteca Viva and the German School, where the closing ceremonies for the week were held. During this event an interactive connection to Cerro Pachón was made and the audience was able to ask questions of the summit observers in real time.

"For us, it was a wonderful experience,” said Germán Villalobos Villa San Bartolomé neighborhood club president. “We don’t often have the opportunity to interact with local or, much-less, foreign scientists, and the children were extremely motivated by the activities, especially the rockets,” he said.

Finally, the Gemini South Public Information and Outreach Office was gratified to discover that 72% of the evaluation respondents (600 out of about 2500 participants) replied that the 2011 AstroDay and Viaje al Universo programs contributed “greatly” to their understanding of the universe. Look for more details on this program in the December 2011 issue of GeminiFocus.

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