astronomy graduate students watching the transit of venus. Photo: Vatican Observatory

Vatican Observatory will train 24 students in 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.

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(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.

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