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Astronomy in Central America
Eduardo Xavier Amador,  BSc & MSc in Theoretical Physics
http://exaphysics.tripod.com/Fysik.html
Dept. of Physics,  Center  for  Research and Advanced Studies  [CINVESTAV]
of the National Polytechnic Institute, D.F., Mexico.  &
Depto. of Physics, University of Panama, Panama, Central America.
på Svenska auf Deutsch in English en Francais en Español

June 4, 2002
Abstract
We present  a global and summarized vision of the activities that are been developed at this moment in the area of Astronomy in the region of Central America, at professional and amateur level.      We expose with clarity the necessity to continue the efforts for  the development of this science in our countries with the help of  supporting  programs  like  the European  project  ALFA,  northamerican  project TWAN and  the TAD  program .    We exhalt the work of the amateur astronomers whose valuable aid can be used for a fast establishment of the bases on which Astronomy can lean.

In order to have a solid base to judge the possible development of Astronomy in Central America in the next 10 years,  we must first know the present reality of this science in our region and our relation with the developed countries that support this branch of  knowledge.     This report is not exhaustive and it only has as a  modest aim to present a global view of  the current situation of Astronomy in Central America.

The Social Aspect

Since the beginning the humanity has been fascinated by astronomical events and outer space.    Without concerning about educative level issues, people always have found interesting the subject of Astronomy, nondaily, but attractive.    Nevertheless, in our countries there is a clear and noticeable lack of interest for the development of any type of branch of science.   So, why a government must invest in Astronomy?    This is just like ask: Why to invest in culture and education?   Why to invest in art?   Why to invest in philosophy, entertainment, sport, humanities, sciences? It would be better then that all these activities disappeared and invest only and exclusively in commerce, administration of companies, architecture and civil engeeniering, medicine, engeeniering, in agriculture, armament, military service, public security!    It would be best to invest only in everything that generates money in short and moderate periods of time ... In other words, invest to satisfy the immediate necessities of the human being: food, house, health and security... period!   We know that the solution of the social problems has a high priority and that the budget is relatively low to be invested trying to develop any type of  "academic" activities. But this is not a problem without solution! Developed countries also have equal or similar problems, in relative proportion, and even so they invest in basic sciences!

We already know all  that history teaches about the raise of Astronomy and why it played an important role in the development of the economy, the culture and the knowledge of our civilization! We already know that Astronomy has given, and still is giving, its fruits and that the developed countries have known how to exploit such fruits... but, What about the underdeveloped countries? In what benefits Astronomy to Central America?    Is this relevant for the development of the countries of the region? The answer is in the FUTURE: we must see WHAT are the developed countries doing concerning Astronomy?  Then, we must reflect on HOW are we (the not-developed countries) going to prepare before such challenges? Answer: with preparation, qualification, education, training!     Otherwise we will continue to be the ever retarded, ignorants, poor people,  with low cultural and social levels, the "cheap manual labor people" we have been since remote times... our children will continue to be the "3rd category employees" in charge of manual labors... we will continue to be the eternal dependents on the development reached by others... Perhaps as individual countries we cannot aspire to reach great goals, but if a union for a cooperative support settles down, acceptable results can be obtained faster... The intrinsic nature of Astronomy forces us to use very sophisticated and advanced technologies [communications satellites, opto-electronics devices, computer networks , Internet, etc.], which is an advantage since it allows us to train scientists in the knowledge and usage of such technologies, which are applicable in ALL the areas of theoretical and practical  work.  Some of the benefits will revert to our countries in the form of education, which allows as well to transmit such knowledge to others and to train more professionals!

Besides, WE ARE NOT ALONE! ... Aid Programs from developed countries towards the Central America region exist... the support is real [1]... advantage of this can be taken and can be exploited to the maximum. This opens the doors to many opportunities. First Astronomy, and soon other areas of science and technology. The creation of an advanced scientific center [a radio telescope, for example] in, at least, 1 Central American country can open the doors towards more investment from other developed countries! This type of investment soon paves the way to another type of investments, more oriented to the financial areas!     Why foreign investors are cautious when investing in underdeveloped countries?    Precisely due to the subdevelopment!... When these investors observe that reliable people, such as the scientists of developed countries, invest in science in our region, that will send a message to them that Central America is "stable" and that the corruption and the bad governmental managements have diminished to such a degree that is relatively safe to canalize investments toward these countries; now they are safer to invest... are good candidates to invest!   It's a common sense question: an investor will prefer to invest in a country whose level of intelligence and knowledge is high; education provides the knowledge which help to develop intelligence, intelligence attracts more intelligence, and an investor will trust his money to intelligent people that have knowledge, for this will cause that their investments will be used effectively, making him gain more money!...

Some think that Astronomy in Central America cannot be done. Nevertheless, the reality is different. We already have many things that we didn't have before: specialized bookstores, powerful computer networks, the Internet, scientific collaboration with other astronomers of developed countries, the support to obtain postgrades in the area of Astronomy also exist,  also exist economic support for trips to conferences and are not difficult to obtain;  videoconferences also exist [http://cuevano.astro.ugto.mx/~ala/numeros/5/node20.html] ... There are support of international organizations dedicated to the development of this science in underdeveloped countries, etc.  Then, why not give more support to those who want to work for the development of this science?     Astronomy can be used too as a mean to make contact with the general public.    The fascination by the aspects and characteristics of outer space is a powerful magnet that can attract people of diverse areas;   such situation must be exploited to put public in contact with science in general. The own nature of Astronomy forces us to depend on high technology and, therefore, it can be raised an interaction between small and medium industries in areas like the electronics, optics, precision engineering , etc. High level research can be done in Astronomy using the immense astronomical data bases [2] that exist in Internet. It is enough to buy a suitable processing software to make the work, and even there are many free softwares in this network that are used for the data mining and analysis. There is no longer any excuse!

Recently, a amazing effort is being made to continue with the program of established development. In 2001, it was carried out the VI CENTRAL AMERICAN COURSE OF ASTRONOMY and ASTROPHYSICS[CURCAA ] and the VI Meeting of the ASSEMBLY OF CENTRALAMERICA ASTRONOMERS and ASTROPHYSICIST   [AAAC] in Costa Rica [http://www.astro.unah.hondunet.net/Poacs-actCA.html, http://capella.efis.ucr.ac.cr/viccaa/vicurso.htm ]. The current president of the AAAC is the astrophysicist Dr. Jorge Pãez(Costa Rica).  The following course, in 2002, will be held possibly in Honduras. In the AAAC meeting the possibilities for fellowships to get a MSc degree in Costa Rica, Honduras and Mexico and a PhD in   Costa Rica and Mexico were discussed; also were discussed the possibility of the integration of the Central American Network [CAN] and the realization in this way research projects, in collaboration with other centers, and the possibility that the Irazú Volcano, in Costa Rica, could be the place for the future Astronomical Solar Observatory.   The event was sponsored by the International Astronomical Union [IAU], the European Space Agency [ESA], the O.E.A.   and  UNESCO.
 
 

The Technical Aspect

The area of Astronomy and Astrophysics has been developing in Central American  countries to a growing rate as time pass.     The strong impulse Astronomy and Astrophysics are receiving at the Central American level is due thanks to several development programs [R&D]:

This reunites several European countries (Spain, Belgium, Germany, England, Denmark, France, Netherlands, Portugal) and Latin American ones (Argentina,   Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Uruguay, Venezuela, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Panama ) to develop a  common goal:   to offer fellowships and to train Astronomers and Astrophisicists so that they, when returning to their respective countries, promote the development and the education of so exciting science, aside from implementation of programs of joint investigation between the member countries .

The ALFA program born thanks to an initiative of  economic, scientific and technological cooperation  between the European Community and the countries of Latin America , with the intention of improving the potential of growth of our region. This program arised from the experience of the European Community in the accomplishment of cooperation networks of similar nature ( ERASMUS, MED-CAMPUS, TEMPUS, COMETT ).  ALFA tries to help to eliminate the existing deficiencies  and to surpass the inequalities and imbalances between the countries of both regions, improving the academic, scientific and technological potential of the less developed countries. Also it is pursued to develop the academic cooperation by means of  superior education institution networks (Universities and Research centers) of Europe and Latin America, as much at educative level as at level of development of joint investigations. The Central American countries that belong to this pogram accorded to implement an Agreement of Cooperation for the Formation of Astronomers and Astrophisicists for the Central American Isthmus . The european coordinator for this project was Dr Jaime Zamorano , of the Department of Astronomy, Physical Faculty of Sciences, Complutensian University of Madrid.   Unfortunately, the required financial support to impulse this project was not obtained, and one of the reason why this so necessary economic support was not granted was that the necessary capable human resources did not exist  and there was not any guarantee that the investment would be productive.  This is another reason why we must make an effort to create such human resources in the Astronomy area! [www.ucm.es/info/vicrint/UCM/International.htm , www.ucm.es/info/Astrof/jaz.html ].

Another program under the sponsorship of the IAU has been proposed, under the much more ample protection of the ICSU and under UNESCO's support . Thanks to this program  the following activities were possible:  the VII UN/ESA Workshop on BASIC Space Science in Honduras, and the inauguration of  the Astronomical Observatory of Suyapa [OACS] in this country, in 1997;   during the Total Sun Eclipse the 26 Feb, 26, 1998,  it was held in Panama the IV Assembly of Astronomers of Central America (IV-AAAC), and  the IV Central American Course of Astronomy and Astrophysics (IV-CURCAA);   also occurred  the II Course of  Observacional Astronomy  at OACS,  Honduras,  from Jan. 15 to Feb. 15, 1998,   on the issue of "Acquisition and Reduction of photometric variable star data", using the observatory's 0.4m telescope and a  CCD photometer;   astrophisicist Dr Armando Arellano Ferro (Mexico) gave a special course in El Salvador, Sept. 22, 1998, with a small telescope of 0,3 m and a photometer of the IAU,  about the physics and astrophysics of radiation.  The participants to this course were students of the University of El Salvador and members of the Salvadoran Association of Astronomy.   As we could see, the intention of this program is to help for the development of this science in central american countries.

The development in the Central American countries has been the following one:

Costa Rica:  is the more advanced country in this area.  The University of Costa Rica already has within its study programs the subject of Astronomy and Astrophysics, (http://www.efis.ucr.ac.cr/, http://www.efis.ucr.ac.cr/astrofisica/index.html,
http://www.efis.ucr.ac.cr/astrofisica/Ines_Host/ciencia/ciencia_index.html) and has native professional astrophisicists (graduated in Germany) developing thier science to an excellent level.   At this moment exists a program of  MSc and PhD in Astrophysics [Dr rer. nat Jorge Páez P.,     jpaezp@cariari.ucr.ac.cr, jpaezp@aip.de,  program director] that offers to the students the opportunity to pursue a carrer in this area, with the support of the Universities of Postdam and Dresde, Germany.   Also a project of international research exist at a very good level,  where these astrophisicists work with the gathered data of the IUE- International Ultraviolet Explore satellite,  first sent observatory of ultraviolet radiation, a project of   ESA /NASA/UK  [with control centers at the Station of Satellite Tracking  of  ESA, Villafranca, Spain,  and at the Goddard  Space Flights Center of NASA, Maryland, United States.  With the IUE observations were made with the possibility of reacting quickly to discovered astronomical events on the march, and of changing the course of the mission according to the new discoveries.   Among the investigations made with the IUE are: black hole in galaxy 3C390.3; molecules of cometari nuclei,   comets near the Sun; stellar winds; evolution of SuperNova SN 1987A  and the identification of the star that underwent the explosion; the supergiant Sk-69 202;  more than 110,000  spectra obtained from 11,000 different objects, etc.   Astronomical data are obtained to analyze it through the INES: IUE Newly Extracted Spectra [distribution system of data and astronomical archives], of the European Space Agency [ESA].   INES contains the complete set of data obtained throughout 18,7 years of ultraviolet spectroscopy from the space with the IUE satellite.   All the data are in a format that allows the scientific analysis in a direct way, with no need of a special reduction of such.  

In 1992, in this country took place the II Workshop of the United Nations and the European Space Agency on Basic Space Science [6], in which Costa Rica contributed enormously with planetary atmosphere studies,  presenting works such as: variations of Earth's magnetic field,  in the termperature of the air and change in the winds, changes of the solar irradiance and atmospheric turbulence during the Total Solar Eclipse of Costa Rica,  July 11, 1991 [works that we can take as examples of what we can make as research works in our respective countries contributing in this way to Astronomy]. The production and the scientific quality of these astrophisicists can be verified in the Proceedings of the II United Nations/European Space Agency Workshop, Bogota, Colombia [7].

Honduras:  The National Autonomous University  of Honduras (UNAH),  through Dr Ferrufino Concepción,  Postgrade director, and Dra. Maria Cristina Pineda d e Carías , Director of the Observatory of Astronomy of Honduras   and   former president of the Assembly of Astronomers and Astrophisicists of Central America [AAAC],    is already offering a program of MSc in Astronomy  [http://www.astro.unah.hondunet.net].     In addition, this University served as the Coordination Center of the activities of the ALFA program.  This initiative already has its fruits: Development and Implementation of the Project of the Astronomical Observatory of Suyapa for Central America [OACS] [ with a telescope Meade LX200  0.4m   donated by the University of Madrid];  the Assembly of Astronomers and  (professional) Astrophisicists of Central America [AAAC] and the Central American Course of Astronomers and Astrophisicists  [CURCAA] were created;  the program for Astronomers and Astrophisicists formation  for  the Central American Isthmus (FAAIC)  was developed  and  were made several visits to Universities of Central America to present them this project,  for thus to settle down agreements of  international  cooperation .   The UNAH asks for support to the Central American universities so that all together would conform the Network of International Cooperation. [Observatory photos, courtesy of Prof. Eduardo Sáenz.]


At Honduras, from June 16 to 20, 1997,  took place the  VII United Nations/European Space Agency Workshop on BASIC Space Science: Small Astronomical Telescopes and Satellites in Education and Research [8] , to which I had the honor to attend as a committee member of the  Physics dept. of the University of Panama,  along with Prof. Héctor Castillo, Prof. Eduardo Sáenz , and Prof. Jorge Suárez ,  and also as a representative of the Panamanian Association of  Amateur Astronomers,  APAA.   It was in this event where we established contact with Dra. Julieta Fierro [famous Mexican astronomer, former president of  the Eduacation section of the International Astronomical Union - IUA,  http://yan.open.ac.uk/IAU46/officers.html ], Dr Armando Arellano Ferro [Mexico], Dr Walter Fernandez [Costa Rica],  Dr J. Paez [Costa Rica],  Dr Javier Bonatti [Costa Rica],  Dr Hans J. Haubold [Austria], Dr Gustavo Ponce [Guatemala], Dra. María Crisitana Pineda [Honduras],   Dr Alan Batten [Canada] and others.    During the event it was inaugurated the first and the only professional observatory of Astronomy in the region, the Suyapa  Astronomical Observatory for Central America, in Tegucigalpa, under the auspice of  the UNAH.   The event was inaugurated by the president of Honduras,  Carlos Roberto Queen Idiaquez, and by  representatives of the United Nations,  the European Space Agency and the Planetary Society.    Attended more than 80 participants, between astronomers and space scientists of 28 countries: Australia, Austria, Canada, Cuba, Colombia, Costa Rica, Egypt, El Salvador, France, Germany, Guatemala, Honduras, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Morocco, Nicaragua, Panama, Poland, Slovakian Republic, Spain, Sri Lanka, Tunez, United States, Uruguay, and Zambia.  Subjects like the development of an international and regional cooperation in basic space science were treated and on HOW Central America could participate in projects such as: observation of variable stars and  Near Earth Objects [NEOs].  These workshops had between their objectives to help for the development of Astronomy at a world-wide level. Examples of support are: the possibility of mounting a radio telescope in Colombia; the government of Japan, along with astronomers of the National Observatory of Japan offered their aid for the establishment of astronomical facilities in the developing countries!
Guatemala: In 1997, April 21, an astronomy course was given in Guatemala thanks to the initiative of the Central American cooperation between universities,    attended by the former president of the TAD commission of the  International Astronomical Union, Dr John Percy who spoke on Education in Astronomy and investigation on variable stars. Books and materials were donated by the AAVSO [ American Association of Variable Star Observers ], the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada , and the University of Toronto.    He also interacted with the Guatemalan Astronomical Association.   During the course there were interest in the supposed meteorite that fell in Honduras,  Nov. 22, 1996  (Sky and Telescope, March 1997, pag. 12).  Although there were many eyewitnesses, there was not solid evidence that such event has happened.   Presently there's a participation of several university professors [University of San Carlos of Guatemala   http://www.usac.edu.gt /   and    University University Francisco Marroquin, http://www.ufm.edu.gt /]  in the CURCAA and the AAAC.
El Salvador: At the moment the University of El Salvador [http://cimat.ues.edu.sv/fisica/index.html] belongs to the  Central American Network of Astronomy , through some professors of the physics area. Due to the recent earthquake suffered by this brother country, the astronomical activity has decreased,  both at academic as well at the amateur levels. The participation has been developed through the attendance to the annual meetings of the CURCAA and the AAAC.
Nicaragua and Belize: due to the isolation that exists between these countries and the rest Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Nicaragua, UNAN of Central America, it's not know by the time of this writing if some type of development in the field of Astronomy has occurred.   The present participation of Nicaragua   [University Nacional Autonoma of Nicaragua, UNITES,   http://www.unan.edu.ni/] in astronomical activities is occurring through the attendance to the CURCAAs and the AAACs.
Panama: In 1995, former Rector of the University of Panama Dr Gustavo   García de Paredes ,   signed an agreement to compromise this institution to join the Central American Cooperation Network for the Development of Astronomy (Rector's note No. 1088-85,  June   22, 1995).      Finally, after many efforts,  it was opened in this same year an area of  Astronomy and Astrophysics (AAF) in the Department of Physics of the Faculty of Natural and Exact Sciences and Technology of the University of Panama Octavio Méndez Pereira .  As the area's coordinador was Prof. Héctor Castillo Silva.    Panama was the host of the IV CURCAA and of the IV AAAC, in 1998, during the celebration of the Total Solar Eclipse that took place in Jaqué, Darién 
[http://cuevano.astro.ugto.mx/~ala/numeros/5/node15.html].    A brief summary of the event can be read at http://exaphysics.tripod.com/CAAstronomy/e98.html .  

Recently, Dr Bernardo Fernandez , of the  Research Center with Nuclear Techniques [CITEN = Centro de Investigaciones con Técnicas Nucleares], of this university,   had the initiative to contact the french association astronomy amateurs, Uranoscope of l'ile of France   [ uranos@club-internet.fr ,   http://www.obspm.fr/www/france.en.shtml , http://perso.club-internet.fr/uranos/urassoc.htm.  President: Christian Bourdeille.   L'Uranoscope, 7 avenue CARNOT, F77220 GRETZ-ARMAINVILLIERS FRANCE Fax: +33 (0)1 64 07 86 04 Phone: +33 (0)1 64 42 00 02 ],  and the french government  to establish an agreement to construct in  Cerro Campana, an Astronomical Park with an Observatory, a Planetarium and a botanical Garden .    The Uranoscope will serve as an adviser to look for financial support  at international level and also as an adviser in the scientific part.  The ANAM is consenting, along with the Mayorship of the city of Panama and  the SEcretaría NAcional de Ciencia and Tecnología [SENACyT]  in supporting this activity.    Present Rector, Dr Julio Vallarino , already signed an agreement with  the ambassador of France in Panama, Mr. Patric Bursua , so that such cooperation could be carried out in our country.    Two members of the Uranoscope will attend  the XXVII Central American and Caribean Course of Physics [CURCCAF]  that will occur in this country, from Dec 10 to 14, 2001,  to participate in this congress to explain the activities and experiences  they have had in other several countries.      In addition, Lorence Durret , investigator of  the Observatory of Paris ,  financed by the government of France (throught the French Cooperation), will give two courses of Astronomy (basic and advanced) during the congress.

Amateur Astronomy

The history of the development of amateur Astronomy associations & clubs in each country appears in the respective club's Internet webpages .  Most of these associations have had contact with the Ibero-American League of Astronomy, LIADA ( http://www.liada.net / )



Guatemala

- Astronomical Association of Guatemala [AAG] President [2003]: Ing. Edgar Castro Bathen

- Star Club of Guatemala [ACG]    private Club founded in 1983  by the geologist   Hector Roberto Caballero Barrios.


- Eng. Edgar Castro Bathen  [ecastrobathen@yahoo.com] (http://msnhomepages.talkcity.com/Terminus/ecastro/)
Ex-president of the AAG [1995-1996] and of the ACG [1994].    Creator of the first Central American virtual bulletin of Astronomy, the "Cyberastronomer" [cyberastronomo@yahoo.com], that is distributed by Internet to subscribers [the last issues can be found in the mirror: http://exaphysics.tripod.com/Fysik2.html].   Also founder of SPICA = Society for the Impulse and Conservation of  Astronomy, a virtual society of all the amateurs astronomers in Central America [http://exaphysics.tripod.com/CAAstronomy/Cyberas66.htm].



Honduras

- Honduran Association of Astronomy [AHDA] nrivera@optinet.hn
(http://www.geocities.com/ahda-hon/ahda/ahda.html ) President: Nohemy Rivera (http://www.geocities.com/CapeCanaveral/Launchpad/9714/index.html )


El Salvador

- Salvadoran Association of Astronomy [ASTRO]  Current President: Luis Angel Rapalo Claudé. Born legally September 10, 1991,  although as organization existed since 1985.   Played a very important role during the Solar Eclipse of  July 11, 1991,  for their diffusion work reached national broadcasting covering,  through the Educative Cultural television channels 8 and 10, thanks to the Minister of Education of the country, Licda. Cecilia Gallardo de Cano. They are the ONLY ONES  in all Central America  who has managed to make the dream of all astronomers come true.  They founded an Astronomical Park: an Observatory (called   'Astronomical Observatory  Dr. Prudencio Llach' ,  who was a pioneer of Astronomy in this country),  a Planetarium and Museum of Sciences in San Juan Talpa town,  La Paz department.    The Observatory is of exclusive use of the association and  has a Cassegrain of 12 ", f/16 telescope, with focal length of 4800 mm, with a equatorial type German mount.   It has several members that also are professors in scientific areas of  different Salvadoran universities, reason why the contact of this association with the academic atmosphere is good.


- MARTIAN SOCIETY    [sociedadmarciana@yahoo.com] (http://members.nbci.com/marcians/marte/) President: Jorge Arturo Colorado . Virtual association in Internet.


Nicaragua and Belize

we don't know at the time of  writing this article if in these countries exists some amateur associations;


Costa Rica

- CIENTEC Foundation  [leonale@racsa.co.cr] (http: / /www.cientec.or.cr, http://www.cientec.or.cr/astronomia.html )  Address:  PO box 8536-1000, San José, Costa Rica. Telephone: (506) 233-7701    Fax: (506) 255-2182;  founded in 1989; organization without profit aims.

- AstroTEC Astronomy Group of the Technological Institute of Costa Rica [astrotec@itcr.ac.cr]
(http://angelfire.com/sc2/astrotec/)  President:  Felipe Rocks Obando [fmeza@technologist.com]

- Club of Amateur Astronomers  (http://www.angelfire.com/sc/felipemeza/astro.html);


- AstroCharlie   Carlos Hernandez   [herdel@racsa.co.cr] (http://www.astrored.net/astrocharlie/)


Panama

- Canal Zone Astronomical Society - CZAS/Panama Canal Astronomy Club - PCAC .  According to the "Landmarks of  Amateur Astronomy" of this country, published by  Carlos Rodgers, Eng., this passion was born with the amateur astronomer James Hess, in 1928, when he got a  5" refractor telescope with equatorial mount, property of the EEUU Naval Observatory, and in 1929  he founded  CZAS club on the Canal Zone (Panama). This club disappears and in 1956, another one arised, the PCAC, in the province of Colon, which was associated with the EEUU "Astronomical League" [AL].


- Panamanian Association of Amateur Astronomers [A.P.A.A. http://www.astropanama.org]  Founded: September 15, 1983 . It has also had ample contact with the Ibero'American League of Astronomy (LIADA) .   in 1986, the Panama government awards the APAA emitting, for the first time in the republic history, a stamp wiht an astronomical subject, in commemoration with 7th passage of Halley's comet, based on the astrophotography taken by Eng. Carlos Rodgers (APAA/PCAC) in 1986 above the ruins of the Cathedral Tower of "Panama La Vieja", Panama city. APAA also played an important role during the 1991 Total Solar Eclipse, with national broadcasting covering.    Recently, in preparation for the  XXIII CURCCAF [Central American and Caribbean Course of Physics], december 10-14, 2001,   2 members of this club [Eng. Ivan Jaen Perigault and Dr Guillermo Earl, M.D. , both former chairmen of this club]   have been participating with the Physics dept. of the University of Panama, giving talks on Astronomy subjects and inviting general public to attend the nocturnal sessions of astronomical observation.    In 1985-1986 we had the honor to have visit of the famous Astronomer Dr. Carl Sagan [1934-1996], during his passage through the Panama Canal in course to Chile to see Halley's Comet; he joined us together with other fans during a "Star Party" in Balboa, Canal Zone, and was in there that, for the first time, he saw the Halley!  APAA has also international contacts, such as the Johnson Space Center Astronomical Society  through our actual president, Aulio Hernández, who is member of this society.  We have some photos of the 1998 Solar Eclipse  in their website.   Also we have contact with the Stockholms AmatörastronomeR -STAR- Club,  Sweden , through my membership.




A little history about Central American events indicates that amateur astronomy is very active in our region.  Eng. Edgar Catro Bathen, Stephen James O'meara provides us with the following information.  Thanks to an announcement published in the Astronomy magazine, the directive members of ACG and of ASA decided to have a meeting May 1, 1993, in El Salvador, in which they interchanged sevaral opinions and the idea was conceived to make a meeting of amateur astronomers  at Central American level.    More than 70 people from  4 Central American countries met that time: Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Panama.    Also attended the famous amateur astronomer Stephen James O'meara [the event ws published in Sky & Telescope magazine , May 1994, pp. 99].     In this meeting it was discovered that almost all the Central American associations had their beginnings around the 80's, and they grew up in membership during the arrival of  Halley's comet  in 1985-86 and  during the Total Solar Eclipse of 1991.   The PECAA (First Central American Meeting of Amateur Astronomers), was held in El Salvador, November 5, 1994, and was organized to enjoy 2 days of Astronomy.     In this occasion, a 42% more attendance than in the previous encounter were gained. The II Central American Congress of Associations of Amateur Astronomers (II-CCAAA)   was also a success.      Also attended  Tippy D'Auria,  founder of the Winter Star Party de Miami, USARobert Benward of  the Astronomical Society of Long Island, USA, and Stephen J.  O'meara,   who gave a talk on the Impact of  comet Shoemaker-Levy 9.     This congress was important because in there was proposed  to celebrate the Day of the Amateur Astronomer (6 of July) every year, and to give a recognition to the best amateur astronomical works in the next congresses and also the creation of the Federation of Amateur Astronomy of Central America, now SPICA, was settled.    Due to Mitch  Hurricane and to its devastating pass through Honduras and El Salvador, the amateur encounters have had to be suspended temporarily, but it's hoped that in coming years the activities will be started again.    To this congresses also had attended famous astronomers like Carolyn and Eugene Shoemaker, and David Levy as can be seen in the picture [http://exaphysics.tripod.com/CAAstronomy/Cyberas48.htm].

A great interest in establishing a collaboration between amateurs and professionals in this area exists, since the amateurs count with resources that professionals don't have .  The amateurs have enough time to observe and have their own telescopes and don't have to be competing for acquiring  observation time in great telescopes, reason why they can concentrate in investigating events that professionals cannot.  What a serious and real collaboration would consist of?   First of all, many serious amateur astronomers  know that to make a  quality relevant work,  it's necessary to have a good equipment  [telescopes, cameras or CCD, photometers, spectrometers, etc. ] and that the observations must be prolonged, under the direction of a serious program managed by professionals. Nevertheless, it is possible to establish a less ambitious programs of observation.

How  the cooperation could be established?    With the aid of small telescopes observations of  NEOs  [Near Earth Objects] can be made, Solar Astronomy, Comets can be discovered, and also a magnificent job of  Teaching and Dissemination can be made , and for that purpose  it is necessary to be updated with the current astronomical events that can be observed in the region and to notify to the mass media, and also by giving talks to the general public, etc.    Also a cooperation with the  American Asociation of Variable Stars Observers [AAVSO] (http://www.aavso.org /)  can be made,  in the  variable star visual observation;   nevertheless, it must be considered that even though the AAVSO group of visual observations is great, their reports are always compared with more precise techniques of data gathering [CCD and photoelectric photometry].   In short, the cooperation possibilities are many.

The Escencial Aspect

Now that we have an ampler panorama of the development that has occurred in Central America, we can give a look to the future. Even though the development is occurring,  this is relatively slow.   Being a little optimistic, in the next 10 years  I do not believe that we manage to advance further unless we take a firm and aggressive decision to support the development of this science in our region.    In 20 or 30 years the panorama is more promising.   It's a waste of time to ask  for support  to international organizations if  we don't have still the suitable human resources, reason why as a first step  we must support the programs of  MSc and  PhD in Astronomy of  Costa Rica and Honduras, to fill this emptiness in other countries of the region.   Each country must have, at least, 1 or 2 astrophisicists within its university structures.  With this profit, financial support could be requested to strengthen the Suyapa's Observatory, in Honduras,  modernizing it with more observational equipment.   We are obligated to mount an aggressive program of astronomical investigation and  to seek for a collaboration between universities and thus to produce results,  even though these were modest in the short term.  We must mount aggressive programs of dissemination and  look  for  private institutions support  that could invest in projects like Planetaries and astronomical parks, such as the one existing in El Salvador. The amateur associations, altogether with the respective university centers, working united, can attract investments of  national and/or foreign  private companies for the development of such projects.  Many things can be done and many thins can be obtained.  For the international support exists, the will to work is the only thing need.

We forgot who we are.    We forgot how deeply we are bound to the Universe.    Routine occupies all our attention, moment after moment, station after station, epoch after epoch.   We forgot that we are travelling... we travel altogether, all united, through an empty our home, the Milky Way and dark immensity.    We travel tied to a star that gave us life and that allows us to undertake our periodic tasks.   This star drags us in its trip through the edge of our cosmic home, which as well, along with travels other galactic dwellings through the immense emptiness of the space. We are unconscious of that reality.   Only few, in comparison with the many, realize that we travel alone, that our trip depends on us and on our actions.     Those few,  who many label as dreamers, are the cosmic conscience of our world.    Of  those few, only some undertake the task of  awake the consciousness of the many.   This awakening of the conscience  is carried out by disseminating the truth.   That truth makes us to open our consciences before the reality of our trip. The understanding of our position in the vast Universe can only be reached if the travellers, conscious of our trip, disclose their knowledge and teach it to the rest of the travellers.

The dissemination of such an exciting science as Astronomy requires that the discloser has certain type of abilities.    Often we accuse professionals to have lost that sense of admiration and fascination for  their  careers, which is reflected in their manner to communicate their science,  their art,  to the general public.    The communication is carried out, some times, in a cold and technical way.    The professional lacks, sometimes, of that sense of motivation and fails when trying to inject that passion to the public who listen to him.   Often this is the case, but not always.    We accuse professionals to be technical and cold, nevertheless we are forgetting that originally that person, who decided to become a professional, has dedicated his life to that dream;   we forget that the professional is a full time dreamer.     On the other side, the professional is so deeply submerged in technical details that sometimes forget why  he does it,  what was his original passion.

Our Universe When disclosing on Astronomy, the speaker must not stun with technical details nor with formulas... he must transmit that motivation, that astonishment, that fluid passion that crosses his veins, that  impels him day after day to enter in what he loves... that desire of knowing more deeply, and  that lead him through the eternal questions about the Origin and the Being... that explosive sprouting and irrefrenable questionings whose answers seems to be so... distant...
that understanding of why the emptiness needs to be calmed... of why that light needs to be turned on... that fascination that leaves him overwhelmed before each constellation, each star, each galaxy... that feeling of humility when, from a secret place within himself,  contemplates the immense wonders of the Cosmos...  that Communion that only he can feel when, in deep darkness, glimpses that  white starry road that constitute our immense galactic home... that tremor... that shaking of emotion before so incommensurable beautiness... that comprehension before the infiniteness, before the smallness, before the Sacred,  before the Existence itself...  that Encounter that only can arise from within the Being... that lackness of words, that Universal Presence, that expansion of  Conscience... then, and only then, when he knows what needs to be known, understands what needs to be understood, transmits what needs to be transmitted, only then he'll be able...  
to open us... the Doors of the Universe...

Acknowledgments

This report  couldn't have arrived to a happy ending without the uninterested collaboration of many people: Nohemi Rivera [Honduras], Dr. Jorge Paez [Costa Rica],   Dr. Bernardo Fernandez [Panama], Prof. Eduardo Chung [Panama], Prof. Eduardo Sáenz [Panama], Prof. Etelvina Medina [Panama],   Edgar Castro Bathen, Eng.[Guatemala],   Carlos Rodgers, Eng.[Panama], Jorge Arturo Colorado [El Salvador].
 

Bibliography

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Additional links :
List of  emails of  centralamerican professionals and amateurs  who are directly involved with Astronomy in Central America [still in construction]:
http://exaphysics.tripod.com/Artikelvetenskapen/astroemails.html

LATIN AMERICAN NETWORK INFORMATION CENTER [LANIC]: 
http://lanic.utexas.edu/        http://lanic.utexas.edu/la/region/astronomy/