Project title: Latin American School of Observational Astronomy
Project leader: Mr. Jose H. Pena
There is great enthusiasm for astronomy in Latin America and even interest in developing small local observatories but, unfortunately, so far there are very few astronomers in these countries who can develop new talents. In collaboration with the Instituto Nacional de Astonomia, Optica y Electronica (INAOE), in 2007 members of the Astronomy Institute at the National University began a short course at our observatory in Tonanzintla dedicated to undergraduate-level students from these countries. The course was called the Escuela de Astronomia Observacional Centroamericana (Central American School of Observational Astronomy), and when it was later discovered that there was interest from other parts of Latin America, it was renamed the Latin American School of Observational Astronomy. Tonanzintla was chosen to take advantage of the National University’s 1m telescope and, due to climate constraints, the three-week theoretical course with daily observational experience is offered only in the month of January. Professors from universities throughout Mexico are invited to give lectures and students observe nightly practicing the new techniques they have learned.
Since its inception 54 students have taken the course and many are now in graduate courses throughout the world. The observational part of the course has been enriched by the acquisition of smaller telescopes, but it needs to be further expanded with additional telescopes so that students can work in smaller groups. Although the course is without cost for the students and we supply housing and food, the students are required to pay their own transportation to and from Mexico. Experience has shown that many participants often are unable to pay the airfare to Mexico and many have traveled here for days by bus. We feel that to attract more students, relate to the economical/educational needs of each country and to guide those who take the course, it is necessary for us to visit local universities.