Career Profile

Kate Brooks completed her PhD in Astrophysics at UNSW in 2000

Currently I am living in Santiago, Chile, and working as an astronomer for the European Southern Observatory (ESO). A large part of my time is spent working as a support astronomer at the La Silla Observatory, situated in the southern extremity of the Atacama Desert at an altitude of 2400m. Here the skies are free of any light pollution and are less affected by the earth's turbulent atmosphere. The dry stable weather conditions also means clouds are rarely seen. There are more than a dozen telescopes in operation at La Silla, creating a dynamic and stimulating work environment. Observers from all over the world arrive on a daily basis to carry out their scheduled observations and the telescopes are regularly equipped with new state-of-the-art instruments and software control systems.

As a support astronomer it is my job to ensure that all the observing programs for a particular night are executed successfully. The programs can range from observations of nearby planets in our solar system to some of the most distant objects identified in our Universe. Observing time on all world-class telescopes is high in demand. Astronomers must first convince the astronomy community that there project is cutting edge science before they can be allocated any telescope time. Therefore it is important that on the night the project is scheduled everything at the telescope functions perfectly. If a problem happens during the night the support astronomers and engineers must work fast to unsure the minimum amount of precious observing time is lost. Every minute counts.

When I am not at the observatory I have the opportunity to pursue my own research interests in the field of massive stars (stars greater than 10 times the mass of our Sun). This work is equally exciting as being at La Silla and involves observing with telescopes all over the world and presenting the results at international conferences.

The experience I gained from completing a Physics degree at UNSW has proved invaluable for my job at ESO. The UNSW School of Physics is actively involved in the development of astronomical instrumentation for telescopes in both Australia and Antarctica. This provides the prefect backdrop for getting "hands on" experience whilst studying for  a first-rate research project in astrophysics.

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