This site uses cookies. By continuing to use this site you agree to our use of cookies. To find out more, see our Privacy and Cookies policy.
Skip to the content

Share this

Free weekly newswire

Sign up to receive all our latest news direct to your inbox.

Physics on film

100 Second Science Your scientific questions answered simply by specialists in less than 100 seconds.

Watch now

Bright Recruits

At all stages of your career – whether you're an undergraduate, graduate, researcher or industry professional – can help find the job for you.

Find your perfect job

Physics connect

Are you looking for a supplier? Physics Connect lists thousands of scientific companies, businesses, non-profit organizations, institutions and experts worldwide.

Start your search today


Time to claim the Chilean prize

Chilean flag in Santiago

By Louise Mayor in Santiago, Chile

When I got to immigration at Santiago airport in Chile this morning, the man behind the glass asked me whether I was here for business or pleasure. “Business,” I replied. But that word didn’t sit right with me. To me, the word “business” conjures the image of some dull suit-and-briefcase affair. But I’m here to go to the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) as my reward for winning the European Astronomy Journalism Prize 2014, and I’ve been thinking of it as quite the once-in-a-lifetime treat. “Perhaps,” I thought to myself in those split-seconds following my reply, “my trip does fall under ‘pleasure’ after all?”

Not one to mislead immigration officers, I immediately wanted to clarify the situation. “Well,” I added, “er,” before quickly realizing that changing one’s answer at the immigration counter is perhaps not the best idea. The man then stopped his document-checking and looked at me square-on, fixing me with an intense gaze. “Why are you here?” he asked.

Twenty-six hours in from the start of my journey, I paused briefly as my mind – as frantically as it could muster at this stage – sought the words that would get me through. “I’m going to the Atacama Desert,” I said. “To see some telescopes.” He started nodding, which I took as my cue that he was getting on board with my story. “It’s a science thing!” I added, to seal the deal. But by then he’d already decided I was legit, as he waved his hand from side to side and said, “Yes, yes. I know it.”

Clearly he was more familiar with this topic than the man I met yesterday at the Wagamama’s at Heathrow airport who, after me giving him some vague details of where I was going, asked, “That’s some kind of astrology thing isn’t it?” I tend to think I have a good poker face, but on this occasion it must have failed me. “Oh,” he said, looking rather abashed, “that’s the wrong word isn’t it, and I’ve probably just rather insulted you.” I assured him that no offence had been taken, but I did clarify the meanings of the words “astrology” and “astronomy”. Just to be sure, you understand – we get enough enquiries about Psychics World without adding horoscopes into the mix too.

Tomorrow will be my third day of travel and will see me reach San Pedro de Atacama, the town nearest to ALMA at an altitude of 2400 m, which will be my base for the next few days. Once checked in to my hotel I will visit the nearby ALMA Operations Support Facility at 2900 m – the bit where all the astronomers stay and work. The trip up to the Array Operations Site at 5000 m – the bit where all the radio telescopes are – will have to wait one more day, as a condition of me going up that high is that I first stay a night at San Pedro de Atacama to adjust to the altitude.

Fingers crossed I don’t get altitude sickness so that I’m in a fit state to visit these sites and find out exactly what those astronomers are up to. So stay tuned for more over the next few days, altitude-sickness allowing.

This entry was posted in ALMA visit 2015 and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.
View all posts by this author  | View this author's profile


  1. M. Asghar

    The ALMA and the other telescopes around it up the Chilien mountainious Atacam Desert, is a bit like CERN, Geneva, with its 14 TeV LHC and other instruments, where the machines/instruments are run at the technological limit to look into the farthest point in the universe and into the smallest atomic distance, and try to discover the physics of their intimate relation.

  2. MJBridger

    “we get enough enquiries about Psychics World without adding horoscopes into the mix too.”

    Indeed, but it would be nice to see a timely/timeless article on astrology that would rationally consider the possibility, given a modern understanding of science (including physics, evolutionary theory and psychology) of some pattern or ‘influence’ between human behaviour/affairs, and the celestial environment.

    Ironically, whilst the attitude of the modern (media) scientist may be to think of astrology as a joke, it is their lives and livelihoods that are most obviously influenced by the cosmos, as they give their great attention not only to the visible stars and planets but objects even more remote, fainter or more subtle. And perhaps it’s that deep rooted compulsion we have, to observe and fathom the cosmos, and perhaps to find meaning in it, that may play some part in an understanding of the emergence or continued existence of astrology.

  3. Trackback: Disaster-proof astronomy? – MyPhysNet


  • Comments should be relevant to the article and not be used to promote your own work, products or services.
  • Please keep your comments brief (we recommend a maximum of 250 words).
  • We reserve the right to remove excessively long, inappropriate or offensive entries.

Show/hide formatting guidelines

Tag Description Example Output
<a> Hyperlink <a href="">google</a> google
<abbr> Abbreviation <abbr title="World Health Organisation" >WHO</abbr> WHO
<acronym> Acronym <acronym title="as soon as possible">ASAP</acronym> ASAP
<b> Bold <b>Some text</b> Some text
<blockquote> Quoted from another source <blockquote cite="">IOP</blockquote>
<cite> Cite <cite>Diagram 1</cite> Diagram 1
<del> Deleted text From this line<del datetime="2012-12-17"> this text was deleted</del> From this line this text was deleted
<em> Emphasized text In this line<em> this text was emphasised</em> In this line this text was emphasised
<i> Italic <i>Some text</i> Some text
<q> Quotation WWF goal is to build a future <q cite="">
where people live in harmony with nature and animals</q>
WWF goal is to build a future
where people live in harmony with nature and animals
<strike> Strike text <strike>Some text</strike> Some text
<strong> Stronger emphasis of text <strong>Some text</strong> Some text