NSF-funded Astronomy Ambassadors Journey to Chile to See Universe in New Light

Astronomy equipment
ACEAP is a collaboration supported by the U.S. National Science Foundation.

Nine former strangers from across the United States came together in Chile to experience – first hand – the world-class facilities and unparalleled skies that have made this country one of the leading locations to study the Universe.  Their next step is to share these unique experiences with their local schools and communities. A newly assembled team of U.S. educators became the inaugural cohort of the Astronomy in Chile Educator Ambassador Program (ACEAP), an exciting new outreach initiative funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF).

“This group of highly talented and dedicated educators found a culture that welcomed them as family,” said Tim Spuck with Associated Universities Incorporated (AUI) who oversees the program. “Now they’ll carry this new understanding of the science, technology, and discoveries being made in Chile back to their local communities in the U.S.

These formal and informal educators were chosen through a highly competitive process by leaders in astronomy outreach from across several NSF-funded facilities for their, “diversity, expertise, and breadth of knowledge across the astronomy education spectrum.”

Made up of teachers, amateur astronomers, planetarium educators, and college professors, these ambassadors are now charged with sharing their experiences to build awareness among the public about astronomy, in Chile, and the cutting-edge facilities funded by the NSF that are expanding our understanding of the Universe.

“We all want to build awareness in our home communities about why Chile is so important for astronomy and find new ways of collaborating with astronomy educators across hemispheres,” says ACEAP member Sarah Komperud, from the Bell Museum of Natural History in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

The astronomy ambassadors spent a total of ten days in Chile traveling and learning non-stop from other scientists and educators affiliated with some of the most powerful observatories on Earth.

Attempting to soak up as much astronomy, education, and culture as possible, the ACEAP team members started their adventure by visiting exceptionally equipped tourist observatories such as the Observatoria Astronomico Andino near Santiago and Cerro Mayu located in the mountains outside La Serena. These uniquely Chilean facilities, which play host to amateur astronomers from around the world, seamlessly integrate science, culture and history, and play a vital role in the growing astrotourism industry here in Chile.

Also on their journey, the ambassadors visited major NSF-funded research observatories including Gemini South, the Southern Astrophysical Observatory (SOAR), Cerro-Tololo Inter-American Observatory (CTIO) and the Atacama Large Millimeter-submillimeter Array (ALMA). At each location the ACEAP team met their Chilean counterparts as well as research scientists, engineers, and technicians whose work keeps these observatories running and relevant.

While these educators are all astronomy experts in their own respective discipline, most had never seen the southern half of the sky: an experience they found profoundly moving. The enthusiasm of their guides was contagious and they learned new teaching techniques, cutting-edge science, and ancient sky stories. After exposure to the skies, people, and culture of Chile, the astronomy ambassadors will not soon forget this experience. “I’ll be writing about this trip for months” says Brian Koberlein, a participant and professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York.


The ACEAP team has already begun spreading the word about how Chile is one of the astronomy capitals of the world by sharing their trip through social media including Facebook, Twitter, and blogs. They have begun laying the foundations for cross-hemisphere networks, continuing reaching out as our understanding of the universe expands. They plan to work together to inspire Americans to learn more about and perhaps experience Chile for themselves. They are committed to sustaining the evolving cooperative for years to come as the ACEAP program grows. Spuck is thrilled with the outcome, saying, “The ACEAP Leadership Team could not have chosen a better group to represent this program.”

ACEAP is a collaboration between AUI and the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, and Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) facilities including the National Optical Astronomy Observatory and Gemini, and is supported by the U.S. National Science Foundation.

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