CENTRE FOR ASTRONOMY FOR PARAGUAY:
A Quest for a Moderate-Sized Telescope

A.E. Troche-Boggino
Universidad Nacional de Asuncion
Ascuncion, Paraguay


INTRODUCTION

Young people from every nation of the world have dreams about outer space and all that it contains. When these dreams become realized, many bright horizons are open to them. In more pragmatic words, technology transfer should help a nation or society progress, provided there exists an appropriate environment. Opportunities for technology transfer should be taken advantage of and from that springs urges of creativity, enabling a nation to develop its own proper technology. This is especially important as the new millennium nears; human beings need to find new paths opened for their future. Our planet needs more sensitive inhabitants concerned about the environment, development and social affairs.

Today, astronomical databases are available on CD-ROMs, through the Internet and so on. There are no restrictions for accessing them and prices are low. Also, image processing methods sometimes can reach resolutions as good as those obtained through high-resolution and other very expensive astronomical instruments. But other types of database resources, like those from remote sensing and optical or radar satellites views of land, are still very expensive and restrictive. But data analysis methods used in astronomy and other fields are often similar. So, astronomy might provide excellent training in the use of advanced data analysis techniques often not available in other applied fields. Young students should have the opportunity to be trained in astronomy and learn about these data analysis techniques as well as have some experience through the use of moderate-sized telescopes and its parts (CCD, photometers and spectroscopes). They must know how to acquire data as much as to analyze and record them.

The telescope is essential to stimulating observations, for data acquisition and to interact with other astronomical centers abroad. A telescope should be seen as a kind of tractor for interest in space science. Some of these astronomy students would like to go further. They might conduct research through astronomical observations and use data acquired from databases. Other trained students should be ready to use their knowledge in applied fields like those of remote sensing, meteorology, computer science and communications. Astronomy can be a stimulus for training future scientists and high level technicians, not only for space science but also in many related fields.

Unfortunately, because of a lack of such opportunities in developing countries, many of these bright young people opt for professions in fields far from science. Though the United Nations has 185 Member States, only 100 have professional astronomers and astronomical amateurs working groups and only 60 support their astronomical community and scientific interests through membership in the International Astronomical Union (IAU), which promotes astronomy research, education and astronomers exchange. Many countries lack an astronomical observatory, and Paraguay is no exception. The United Nations, through its Office for Outer Space Affairs, has been seeking cooperation from developed countries in providing developing countries with moderate-sized telescopes. A possible offshoot of this idea is to develop a network of observatories that are useful for research on the sun, binary and variable stars and small solar system bodies throughout the world.

Paraguay has such support from the United Nations and expects to receive a donated telescope from the Government of Japan, which, in cooperation with leading astronomers from the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, is particularly supportive in establishing astronomical facilities in developing countries around the world.

BUENAVENTURA SUAREZ S. J.: A PIONEER ASTRONOMER IN PARAGUAY

There is an important historical reason for having an astronomical observatory in Paraguay: Buenaventura Suarez. Suarez was a pioneer astronomer, the first native astronomer from the southern regions of South America, and he built a sort of astronomical observatory in the 18th century. He was born in Santa Fe in 1678 and studied at Cordoba, both cities now located in Argentina. He did most of his work in San Cosme y Damian, one of 30 Jesuit communities for Guarani Indians in the Great Province of Paraguay, until his death in 1750. With the help of local artisans, Suarez built various astronomical instruments, including some Kepler-type refractors with lenses polished from local crystalline rocks; sundials; a quadrant with degrees divided into minutes; and a pendulum clock divided into minutes and seconds.

In 1743, the Jesuit Order provided him with telescopes and two Martirion clocks imported from England. The telescopes had focal lengths ranging from 2.2 to 6.5 m. For 13 years, Suarez accurately observed eclipses of Jupiter's satellites. He also observed eclipses of the sun and the Moon. He corresponded with N. Grammatici at Amberg, N.L' Isle at St. Petersburg, I. Koegler at Beijing, Pedro Peralta in Lima and O. Celsius at Upsala. He made determinations of longitudes (as meridian differences) and latitudes of San Cosme y Damian and all other Jesuit towns.

In 1739, Buenaventura Suarez readied his calculations for his book "Lunario de un Siglo", a kind of astronomical calendar of one century containing the phases of the Moon, solar and lunar eclipses, church festivities and geographic coordinates of 70 cities. The first edition of "Lunario de un Siglo" was printed in 1743 and re-issued four times until 1856. By the order of King Carlos III, Jesuit priests and brothers were expelled from Spain and all its colonies around 1767. Time and military adventures took their toll. All of Suarez's instruments were lost, with the exception of a sundial at San Cosme y Damian and now serves as a lonely testament to this exceptional man.

Suarez's life is an example of a self-made astronomer in colonial Paraguay able to apply rules for computations and build appropriate instruments. He obtained data from his own observations. He published this data in a book and wrote reports to other scientists around the world. Furthermore, he worked with natives as a missionary priest, and also worked as an artisan making bells.

SOME EFFORTS AT TEACHING ASTRONOMY IN PARAGUAY

International Astronomical Union's Visiting Lecturers Programme (VLP)

From 1988-94, visiting professors from Argentina, Mexico and Italy conducted six astronomy courses, mainly at the Universidad Nacional de Asuncion, on General Astronomy and Astrophysics (Else Recillas, Mexico); Radio Astronomy (Maria Cristina Martin and Carlos A. Alan, with practical lectures from two radio-electronic engineers, all from JAR, Argentina); Galactic and Extragalactic Astronomy (Josi Lums Sersic, Argentina), Astronomical Instrumentation (Armando Arellano Ferro, Mexico) and Stellar Oscillations with some data analysis (Michele Bossi, Italy).

About three dozen physics and engineering students from the Universidad Nacional de Asuncion and Universidad Catolica de Asuncion participated in these courses. Three of these students obtained grants to study and do research abroad and two others received grants to participate at the IAU School for Young Astronomers in Bello Horizonte, Brazil, in July 1994.

The Total Solar Eclipse of 3 November 1994

A group of professors, astronomers and students from Meisei University in Tokyo visited Paraguay in order to observe the total solar eclipse. They came under the leadership of Eijiro Hiei and N. Takahashi. Two days before the solar eclipse an international forum was held at the Universidad Nacional de Asuncions campus in San Lorenzo. For the observation of the eclipse some former VLP physics students joined the Japanese observers in Chaco.

Mr. Hiei suggested that the Japanese Government, through the O.D.A. programme, be solicited to donate a moderate-sized telescope and its peripherals for an astronomical observatory. President of the Republic of Paraguay, Juan CarIos Wasmosy, who observed the eclipse at one of the best places in Paraguay, also promised to help with the construction of the national observatory on that occasion.

Visit of the IAU Commission 46 "Teaching of Astronomy"

John R. Percy, then-President of IAU Commission 46, visited Paraguay for a week early in August 1997. He delivered four public talks related to astronomical teaching and the need for a Centre for Astronomy for Paraguay. He mentioned the success of the Central American Astronomical Project in Honduras. The goal is to let young people learn about and train in space science at all levels of education.

He invited everyone involved in astronomy to work together to make the Centre for Astronomy work. He also did his best to obtain support for the observatory from the Universidad Nacional de Asuncion adminstrators and contacted Japanese astronomers for support from the Cultural Grant Aid of the Japanese Government for a donation of an astronomical telescope and its parts. Paraguay is now waiting to receive, through the cooperative efforts of the Japanese Government and scientists, the telescope and its peripheral parts necessary to give life to the proposed Center for Astronomy. There is a committee to support this project comprising the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan at Tokyo, the IAU, and the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs. The members are. M. Kitamura (Japan), E. Hiei (Japan), B. Hidayat (Indonesia), J. Sahade (Argentina), H.J. Haubold (United Nations), W. Wamsteker (European Space Agency) and others.

SOME PLANS FOR THE USE OF THE REQUESTED TELESCOPE

Teachers and students in physics and astronomy, engineering, meteorology and geography from the Universidad Nacional de Asuncion and other universities, should have the opportunity for training in the use of the telescope and its peripherals instruments. Also, teachers and younger students from the primary and secondary levels should have opportunities to receive basic training in astronomy. Astronomy is a good stimulus for these high school students in deciding to pursue science and technology professions. A library and useful database and data analysis techniques are also required. A personal computer was donated with the help of IAU funds, some books and magazines are being received.

It is very important to develop cooperation among amateur groups for finding resources to improve the activities of the Centre for Astronomy. Interaction with astronomy club members is essential for the life of the Centre. Interested amateurs must also receive training and telescope time.

The exchange of astronomers and students from Paraguay, Japan and abroad is another goal. Joint observations with astronomers from Paraguay and other countries would be complementary for certain observations that deserve different latitudes and time. Presently, the Facultad Politecnica of the Universidad Nacional de Asuncion is willing to contribute to the construction of the observatory, office space and an auditorium for the Centre. The convenient place for the observatory is the UNA Campus in San Lorenzo. The telescope would be used mostly to observe of bodies of the solar system, variable and binary stars and be open for other projects. Astronomy is an international academic discipline. The results of acquired knowledge do not belong to a specific country, but constitute a cultural resource to be shared by all of humanity.

REFERENCES

  1. United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space. Report on the second United Nations/European Space Agency workshop on basic space science, held at San José, Costa Rica, and Sante Fe de Bogota, Colombia, 2-13 November 1992 (A/AC.105/530).

  2. United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space. Basic space science in developing countries. (A/AC.105/664).

  3. H.J. Haubold and W. Wamsteker : Worldwide Development of Astronomy The Story of a Decade of UN/ESA Workshops on Basic Space Science; this volume.