I’m in Patagonia now, but before getting to that how about a brief tour of the Pierre Auger Observatory where I was this past week? We’ll start off driving six hours from Mendoza on the western side of Argentina through the magnificent desolation with the Andes in the distance-
(We’re so in the middle of nowhere that one of those peaks is where the Miracle of the Andes plane crash occurred in the 1970s. Yup, I heard many a cannibalism joke this past week.) Continue reading
Every collaboration meeting one afternoon is set aside for an asado, which depending on who you ask means Argentinean barbecue or “death by meat.” This year’s asado took place in the shadow of Castillo de Pinchera, a natural rock formation about 40km from Malargue and so decidedly in the middle of nowhere it’s well off the normal tourist trail despite looking quite amazing-
Today was the annual Malargue Day parade, a grand affair for a very small town that normally is home to ~40,000 but certainly swelled to several times that. It felt like more people were in the parade than watching it and the physicists were no exception, proudly marching behind our Pierre Auger Observatory banner (or waving from the back of the observatory pickup if you’re me and think that sounds like fun). It’s worth noting that one member of our party was Jim Cronin, the 1980 physics Nobel laureate, which is cool cause how many of those have you been in a parade with? Continue reading
There is nothing quite like waking up on an airplane, or at least giving up hope of sleep and taking off the eye shade, and begin vigil for the first glimpse of the continent waiting below. You are an explorer about to enter new territory- forget those other people who might have gone before, you are about to plant a flag and declare these lands in the name of Yvette Cendes! (Well in my name if you’re me, and probably yours if you’re you, but you have my blessing if you also want to declare exotic points around the globe for my conquest).
South America is my sixth continent, and the first glimpse did not disappoint. You come in off the ocean flying from North America to Santiago, Chile, and the first indication of an entire continent hiding underneath the clouds were the Andes-
For those of you who missed the memo, when not gallivanting around the planet my occupation is being a research graduate student in astrophysics. It probably sounds more impressive than it really is, but specifically I work on a project called the Auger Observatory, which looks for ultra-high-energy cosmic rays. These cosmic rays are the most energetic particles in the known universe (you can tell because they’re ultra high-energy!) but we don’t know what they’re made of or where they come from. All we do know is they’re very enigmatic and hard to detect because you only get one hitting a square kilometer of ground in a century, and it’s one of the pressing questions of 21st century astrophysics. (If you want to learn more about this, I was on NPR a few months ago with my adviser discussing all this. Local NPR sure, but that didn’t make it any less fun.)
The reason I mention this is because my two major passions in life, science and travel, are about to intersect. This is because the Auger Observatory is located in Argentina- it’s a bunch of water tanks like the one pictured spaced one kilometer apart, and spread out over 3,000 square kilometers of cattle ranches in the province of Mendoza (just across the Andes from Santiago, Chile, and where the Argentine wine comes from). It’s big. It’s remote. And it’s where our collaboration meeting is next week, so after five years of working on this project I finally get to see it!
The plan is we’re flying down on Thursday and heading to the meeting in the tiny town of Malargue which is a six hour drive south of Mendoza- an adventure in itself by the way, as we fly via Santiago then over the steepest part of the Andes near where the plane crash in Alive happened. (The survivors of the crash spent two months on a glacier and resorted to cannibalism. Yes, I read the book in preparation for this trip, and will be packing some snacks.) Then there’s a week in Malargue at the meeting talking about science-y things, and then I’m sticking around for the week of Thanksgiving to do a little exploring because it would be a shame to travel 10,000 miles to my sixth continent and not see anything, right?
The plan right now is to head first down to Bariloche, the heart of the Argentinian Lake District and where Patagonia begins (pictured above), then fly up to the city of Mendoza proper midweek. If all goes to plan I should be exploring the wineries on Thanksgiving Day- probably no turkey, but surely with much to be thankful for.
Keep an eye on this space- I’m not sure what I’ll see just yet, but you know it will be an adventure.
(Pictures courtesy of Wikipedia for now as I don’t have any of my own yet…)