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Astronomy in Central America
Lic. Eduardo Xavier Amador
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.

August 21, 2001
Abstract

We present  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 effort for  the development of this science in our countries with the aid of  support  programs  like  the European  Project  ALFA,  northamerican  Project TWAN and  TAD  Program .    We raised 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, first we must 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 objective 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. Why a government must invest in Astronomy? It's 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 disappeared and to invest only and exclusively in commerce, administration of companies, architecture and civil engeeniering, in 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 the history teaches about Astronomy and why this 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 going to prepare, we the not-developed countries, before such challenges?    Answer: with preparation, qualification, education, training!     Otherwise we will continue being the retarded ignorants poor people of ever, of low cultural and social level, the cheap manual labor we have been since remote times... our children will continue being the 3rd category employees who are in charge of the manual labors... we will continue being the eternal employees depending 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 technology [communications satellites, opto-electronics devices, networks of computers, Internet, etc.], which is an advantage since it allows to train scientists in the knowledge and usage of such technologies, which are applicable in ALL the areas of theoretical and practical knowledge. Some of the benefits revert to the country in form of education, which allows, as well, to transmit such knowledge 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 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, networks of computers and their power of calculation, Internet, scientific collaboration with other astronomers of developed countries, the support to obtain postgrades in Astronomy exist, economic support for trips to conferences can be looked for and obtained; 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 to 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), and Professor Alina Ortĩz  (Nicaragua,   algomez10@hotmail.com )   is the current Secretary of this organization. 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 Irazũ Volcano, in Costa Rica, could be the place for the future Astronomical Solar Observatory.   The event was sponsored by theInternational Astronomical Union [IAU], the European Space Agency [ESA], the O.E.A.and UNESCO.
 

The Technical Aspect

The area of Astronomy and Astrophysics has come developing in the Central American   countries to a rate every greater time.     The fort impulse that is receiving Astronomy and the Astrophysics at Central American level must to thanks to several Programs of Development [ R & D ]:

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

The Program ALPHA is born thanks to an initiative of cooperation  economic, scientific and technological between the European Community and the countries of Latin America , with the intention of improving the potential of growth of our region. This program arises from the experience of the European Community in the accomplishment of networks of cooperation of similar nature ( ERASMUS, MED-CAMPUS, TEMPUS, COMETT ). ALPHA tries to help to eliminate the deficiencies existences and to less surpass the inequalities and imbalances between the countries of both regions, improving the academic, scientific and technological potential of the developed countries. Also it is persecuted to develop the academic cooperation by means of networks of institutions of superior education (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 comprise of the Program ALPHA jeopardized to implement an Agreement of Cooperation for Formation of Astronomers and Astrophisicists for the Central American Isthmus . The European Coordinator for this project was the Dr Jaime Zamorano , of the Department of Astronomy of the Physical Faculty of Sciences of the Complutensian University of Madrid. Lamentably, the required financing could not be able to remove ahead this project and one of the reasons that it was not obtained that so necessary economic support was that the sufficient enabled human resources did not exist like so that the investment it was productive. Another reason but for which we must make an effort to us to more create such human resources in the area of Astronomy! [www.ucm.es/info/vicrint/UCM/International.htm , www.ucm.es/info/Astrof/jaz.html ].

Another program under the sponsorship of the IAU, much more the ample protection of the ICSU and with support of UNESCO has seted out. It went thanks to this program that took place sig. activities: VII the UN/ESA Workshop on BASIC Space Science in Honduras, and was inaugurated the Astronomical Observatory of Suyapa in this country, in 1997; it was made in Panama, in 1998, during the Total Sun Eclipse the 26 of February, IV the Assembly of Astronomers of Central America (IV-AAAC), and IV the Central American Course of Astronomy and Astrofísica (IV-CURCAA); [ occurred II to the Course of observacional Astronomy in the OACS of Honduras 15 January to 15 Feb, 1998 ] on acquisition and reduction of photometric variable star data using the telescope of 0.4m of the observatory and a photometer CCD; the 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, and emphasized on the physics of the radiation and the Astrophysics. The participants to this course were students of the University of El Salvador and members of the Salvadoran Association of Astronomy. The intention of this program is to help to the development of this science in underdeveloped countries.

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

Amateur Astronomy

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  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.

  When disvulging  Astronomy the discloser 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 ignited... 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 end without the disinterested 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].
 

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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/