Astronomical Observatory Honduras

In Honduras, under the national Constitution, the National Autonomous University of Honduras is an autonomous institution of the State, which is a juridical entity and enjoys the exclusive right to organize, direct and develop advanced and professional education. It is to participate in scientific, humanistic and technological research, in the general dissemination of culture and in the study of national problems. It is to plan participation in the transformation of Honduran society.

The National Autonomous University of Honduras (UNAH) has, since the beginning of the 1990s, been promoting the development of basic space science, particularly as regards the establishment of astronomy and astrophysics, with a view to helping to raise the scientific and technical level of the country and the region, as well as to afford new opportunities for individual development.

UNAH has been active along a number of lines as part of a strategy to establish astronomy and astrophysics as professional fields in the country. These include:

  1. Promotion of the project for an astronomical observatory for Central America;

  2. Organization of the Assembly of Central American Astronomers and Astrophysicists;

  3. Establishment of the astronomical observatory of the National Autonomous University of Honduras (OA/UNAH);

  4. Preparation of a training programme for astronomers and astrophysicists for Central America;

  5. Organization of the first Central American course on astronomy and astrophysics;

  6. Participation in international events relating to basic space science;

  7. Development of communication with international agencies concerned with outer space matters.

Under the project for an astronomical observatory for Central America, UNAH focuses on the need to open an astronomical observatory equipped with new information, electronics and astronomical technologies for the use and benefit of Central Americans, as a means of helping to improve some essential aspects of their lives and to narrow the scientific and technological gap that separates us from the industrialized countries.

The project document lays the bases for establishment of the astronomical centre, including:

The financial support, and also the operation of the research centre, are considered in the context of permanent international cooperation to maintain:

with a view to participating in regional and world astronomical and space programmes.

This project was prepared in Spain as part of a sabbatical leave by the Head of the Astronomy Section of UNAH. It has been technically reviewed in scientific institutions such as the Astrophysics Institute of the Canaries, the Hispano-German Astronomics Centre, the Astrophysics Institute of Andalusia, and other observatories and scientific research centres.

The Assembly of Astronomers and Astrophysicists of Central America has been constituted as a regional body of the Central American universities and other specialized scientific institutions which wish to contribute to the development of all aspects of astronomy and astrophysics by means of ongoing international cooperation.

The first Assembly took place in 1993, at Tegucigalpa, Honduras, sponsored by the National Autonomous University of Honduras. It was attended by representatives of the national universities of Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama. The noteworthy results of the Assembly, apart from the desire to continue with the initiative, were support for the project for an astronomical observatory for Central America and the decision to seek accession by the Central American countries to the International Astronomical Union.

The second Assembly took place in 1994, at San José, Costa Rica, sponsored by the University of Costa Rica, the Latin American Physics Centre and the European Space Agency. It was attended by representatives of the national and private universities of Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama, and of the European Space Agency. In addition to the presentation of a number of scientific papers, there was a notable support for the initiative to develop a training programme for Latin American astronomers and astrophysicists, in cooperation with Spanish universities, and also an awareness of the need to seek urgently means of connecting ourselves over an international satellite communications network such as the Internet.

It is hoped to hold the third Assembly in 1996, this time in San Salvador, El Salvador. Currently, for the period 1994-1996, the chairmanship of the Assembly is held by the representative of Honduras and the secretaryship is held by the representative of El Salvador.

In 1994, the authorities of the National Autonomous University of Honduras approved the establishment of the University's astronomical observatory as an academic unit under the University Centre for General Studies, responsible for:

  1. Carrying out observation and scientific research projects in the field of astronomy and other related areas;

  2. Managing and developing instrumentation facilities for observation, reduction and analysis, and for receiving astronomical images;

  3. Providing basic astronomical services to students at the university and other educational levels and to the general public;

  4. Organizing and coordinating activities for the dissemination of astronomical knowledge, collaboration in the teaching of astronomy at university level and training of scientific and technical personnel in all fields related to astronomy and astrophysics.

At the present time, OA/UNAH is the only astronomical observation and research centre operating at a Central American university.

OA/UNAH has its own resources and its own staff. It has a fully computerized main telescope with a 42-cm primary mirror, a CCD chamber and other instruments. It is available to the national and international scientific community or to anyone who submits an application for an observation project and receives permission from the Time Allocation Committee. It is also open to the public and it is carrying out its own observation and research projects, including:

  1. A study of the astronomical quality of the sky over Honduras;

  2. Teaching of astronomy in Honduras;

  3. History of astronomy in Honduras;

  4. A morphological study of the Sun;

  5. The solar system;

  6. Variable stars.

As part of the teaching programme, such courses as the following are given: a seminar on selected topics in astronomy, spherical astronomy and general astrophysics. As regards basic astronomical services, work is being done on calculation of astronomical ephemerides; lectures and talks are given and exhibitions and visits with the telescope are arranged to different schools in the country.

OA/UNAH has been organized as the Honduran counterpart for the regional project for an astronomical observatory for Central America.

The training programme for astronomers and astrophysicists for Central America is a Master's programme intended to form, through international scientific cooperation, a body of professionals in astronomy and astrophysics responsible for bringing the Central American isthmus into the fields of research and of knowledge, use and application of astronomical instrumentation and space technology, at the same time creating the basic infrastructure for carrying out the teaching and research activities required in each of the countries.

Through the different courses, the students will be given adequate background in physics, mathematics, astronomy, astrophysics and instrumental techniques so that graduates can continue with doctoral courses with no difficulty and so that they can promote the teaching of astronomy and astrophysics as fields of specialization in their own countries.

The basic subjects comprise classical astronomy and celestial mechanics, stellar, interstellar, galactic and extragalactic astronomy and cosmology; various astrophysical instrumentation techniques, together with appropriate physico-mathematical support and laboratory, computer and astronomical observation techniques, as well as seminars on a variety of subjects which supplement the content of the courses.

In order to develop this project, in the current year, visits were paid to the various Central American universities, and an agreement on international cooperation between the University of La Laguna, in Spain, and the National Autonomous University of Honduras was signed. The terms of reference of this agreement include, as priority areas of cooperation, astronomy and astrophysics, physics, meteorology, mathematics and information technology. The objectives of cooperation refer to:

  1. Contributing to the development of a regional training programme for astronomers and astrophysicists for Central America;

  2. Implementing joint research projects;

  3. Contributing to the establishment of an astronomical research centre.

The first Central American course on astronomy and astrophysics is being organized for early 1995, to:

  1. Provide an updated view of some relevant topics of astronomy and astrophysics;

  2. Promote an exchange of experiences and interinstitutional work between students and professionals in the area of astronomy and astrophysics.

The topics to be covered in the course are: the solar system, solar physics, the atmospheres, surfaces and interiors of the planets and their satellites, structure of stars, galaxies and observational cosmology, and astronomical instrumentation. Some topics of archaeoastronomy will also be included.

It is hoped that advanced students in physics or related disciplines, or professionals in these disciplines, who do not, however, have much knowledge of the subjects to be covered by the course, will take part in it.

This course, which will take place in Honduras the first part at Tegucigalpa in the astronomical observatory of the National Autonomous University of Honduras, and the second in the city of Copan Ruinas, the ancient astronomical centre of the Mayan civilization is being organized by an international committee consisting of professors from Colombia, Costa Rica, Honduras and the United States of America.

As regards participation in various international events related to basic space sciences, in addition to presenting specific scientific projects, the project for an astronomical observatory for Central America has been promoted at these events as a realistic way of developing basic space science in the developing countries. Among the most important events attended, the following deserve special mention:

In 1993:

  1. the first Assembly of Central American Astronomers and Astrophysicists (Tegucigalpa, Honduras);

  2. the second Space Conference of the Americas (Santiago, Chile);

  3. the third United Nations/European Space Agency Workshop on Basic Space Science for Developing Countries (Lagos, Nigeria);

  4. the first Central American meeting of astronomics associations (Antigua, Guatemala).

In 1994:

  1. the second Assembly of Central American Astronomers and Astrophysicists (San José, Costa Rica);

  2. the fourth United Nations/European Space Agency Workshop on Basic Space Science for Developing Countries (Cairo, Egypt);

  3. the Seminar on the Development of Science and Technology in Central America: Plans and Strategies (San Salvador, El Salvador);

  4. the Second Central American Congress of Associations of Amateur Astronomers (San Salvador, El Salvador).

During the whole period, an effort has been made to promote communications with international bodies such as the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs, at Vienna. For this purpose, in addition to participating in the different Workshops on Basic Space Science for Developing Countries organized by the United Nations and the European Space Agency, regular reports have been sent on the astronomical activities of the National Autonomous University of Honduras.

In this connection, the opinion that the National Autonomous University of Honduras sent to the Interim Secretary of the second Space Conference of the Americas, on the proposed agenda for the third United Nations Conference on the Exploration and Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNISPACE), to be discussed at Vienna, on 21 February and 4 March of this year, at the session of the Scientific and Technical Sub-Committee of the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS), deserves special mention.