(ZENIT News / Castelgandolfo, Vatican City, 05.31.2023).- Twenty-four students from more than twenty different nations will gather next week for the 2023 Vatican Observatory Summer School (VOSS) in Observational Astronomy and Astrophysics. The school is held at the headquarters of the Vatican’s astronomical observatory in the Papal Summer Gardens of Castel Gandolfo, outside Rome.
The 2023 school runs from June 4-30; it marks a return to the Observatory’s regular biennial schedule of summer schools, following a hiatus of several years caused by the Covid pandemic. The students will attend lectures, work on projects related to their research, travel and have an audience with Pope Francis.
The theme of this 18th VOSS is “Learning the Universe: Data Science Tools for Astronomical Surveys”. Dr. Viviana Acquaviva, of the City University of New York and the Flatiron Institute, and Dr. Željko Ivezić, from the University of Washington and the Vera C. Rubin Observatory, serve as co-chairs for a faculty including some of the world’s experts on applying the principles of machine learning to astrophysical studies.
“As telescopes grow larger and the detectors on them become more sensitive, the amount of astronomical data that scientists need to understand has grown dramatically,” noted Fr. Alessandro Omizzolo, an astronomer at both the Vatican Observatory and the Italian National Institute of Astrophysics (INAF)/Padua Observatory, who is serving as Dean of the School.
Major astronomical surveys have already measured billions of celestial sources; future surveys, such as the Legacy Survey of Space and Time of the new Rubin Observatory, will produce far more data still. The 2023 VOSS will explore the science behind these surveys, present the concepts of Big Data and Machine Learning, and provide a hands-on data analysis experience that will enable students to use these data sets for their own astronomical projects.
The university and post-graduate students were chosen from nearly two hundred applicants with excellent potential to pursue an active career in astronomy. The primary criteria selection were academic promise and motivation, with selection limited so that no nation would have more than two representatives.
With Drs. Acquaviva and Ivezić, faculty will include Dalya Baron (Tel Aviv University and the Carnegie Observatories), Marc Huertas-Company (Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias / Observatoire de Paris), and Francisco Antonio Villaescusa Navarro (Flatiron Institute / Princeton University). Joining them will be other experts as guest lecturers.
“I am super excited for this wonderful opportunity to meet such an outstanding cohort of motivated young colleagues from all over the world,” Dr. Ivezić commented. He noted the need for young astronomers to learn about the challenges of modern big data in astronomy. “All of us lecturers are so eager to work and interact with them.”
“I am especially thrilled with the community-building aspect of this school,” said Dr. Acquaviva. “The importance of finding one’s network and community is an aspect of academic life that can’t be overstated.” She noted that the participants will continue to interact as a supportive community long after the school is over. Since the first summer school in 1986 (where Vera Rubin herself, namesake of the Rubin Telescope, served on the faculty), more than 400 students have taken part. It is open to advanced astronomy undergraduates and beginning graduate students from around the world. Most of the students selected come from developing countries; admission is without regard to financial need, as the tuition is free, and additional financial support for travel and housing is provided by donors through the Vatican Observatory Foundation. This ensures that every student accepted can attend.
More than 85% continue today as professional astronomers, including some of the most notable figures in contemporary astronomy.
2023 VOSS students come from the following countries: Argentina – Bangladesh – Brazil – Canada – China – Colombia – Croatia – Czech Republic – Denmark – India – Italy – Kazakhstan – Lebanon – Mexico – The Netherlands – Slovakia – Slovenia – South Africa – Spain – Uruguay.