completed her PhD in Astrophysics at UNSW in 2000
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.
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.
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.
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.