The scientist looking for places to install telescopes and be able to see black holes in more detail

Catalina Medina is 30 years old and is an electrical engineer with a degree from the University of Chile and currently works at the TITANS Millennium Nucleus, which, together with a multidisciplinary team, is looking for the best places in Chile to install the radio telescopes with which we will be able to take new images of the mysterious supermassive black holes M87 and Sagittarius A* that is located in the center of our galaxy.

Marllory Fuentes.- Just returned from a stay at the Harvard University Center for Astrophysics where she attended sent by the TITANS Millennium Nucleus to work on the prototypes of the new radiometers that will be used in the new generation of the Event Horizon Telescope (ng-EHT) in Chile.

The TITANS Millennium Core investigates Supermassive Black Holes and is made up of international-class researchers from the Department of Astronomy of the University of Concepción, the Department of Astronomy (DAS) of the University of Chile, the Institute of Physics and Astronomy of the University of Valparaíso and the Institute of Astrophysics of the Catholic University of Chile.

Catalina Medina became an expert in astronomical instrumentation due to her interest in the stars, a topic that she deepened during her career by attending classes at the DAS of the U. de Chile. She currently she is also part of the Center for Astronomical Instrumentation (CePIA) of the UdeCwhere he collaborates with Dr. Rodrigo Reeves, with whom he will travel during the summer to the 0’Higgins Base in Antarctica to see the feasibility of the place and perhaps install one of these four telescopes, thanks to an agreement with the Fund of the Antarctic Institute Chilean (INACH).

“We are analyzing all the tests in the different places for the new ng-EHT telescopes and the development of stations that incorporate high-bandwidth satellite communication,” says the researcher.

Three radiometer prototypes will be installed in Chile to study the behavior of water vapor in sites that were selected by world expert Alexander Raymond, who now works at NASA.

The environmental conditions for these sites to be evaluated are being analyzed in an exhaustive preliminary study that will measure the water vapor (local climate) in the places where the telescopes that are part of the EHT collaboration will be installed.

The first radiometer that Catalina herself will install in the coming weeks will be in the Las Campanas Observatory located in the Atacama Desert and a second in a mountain sector in the central zone of Chile at an altitude of about three thousand meters, while a third device is being evaluated in Cerro Catedral in Bariloche, Argentina.

Although the capacity of these devices is enormous, their volume is relatively small, like a box less than fifty centimeters long and wide that contains an infrared radiation sensor and a camera to detect water vapor and the presence of clouds. Also, they are “ecological and intelligent”, According to the engineer, “because they use low power consumption and can be powered by a solar panel and while it is not connected to the Internet, it stores the data it collects on a memory card. Apart from their use in astronomy, they are used in climatology and geophysics.”

Climate change and 7G

For his part, the director of the TITANS Millennium Nucleus, the astronomer Dr. Neil Nagar, consulted about the type of impact of contamination on the capacity of these telescopes, pointed out: “What affects radio telescopes is that they are disturbed by ‘radio’ light or radio frequency noise. This means they need to be away from TV towers, cell phone towers, or satellites. Even communications can also disturb radio telescopes.”

Nagar warns that as satellite communication and telecommunications increase to 7G, the EHT telescopes will be vulnerable to these frequencies, but in the meantime they are free from this type of contamination, since they operate on a relatively high radio frequency (230 GHz) and so far there is little human interference at this level. But this will change as satellite communications increase and telecommunications move to 7G and beyond.”

“Another factor that influences the sensitivity of these devices is climate change, which is already affecting our observatories. All areas will have an increase in water vapor at some level, so definitely what is intended is to be highest possible in the atmosphere”, affirms the scientist.

Mountain climber

“I like challenges, although at first they worry me, but later up the mountain I realize that everything is worth it,” says Catalina, who combines her scientific work with her passion for mountaineering. And she adds, “hence my interest in the challenges of exploring these new sites where the possibility of installing these telescopes that specifically will take new and better data from Supermassive Black Holes is being studied.”

Gender Vision

Catalina, regarding her condition as a young scientist, reports that she has not suffered greater gender discrimination in the work groups, but she has verified an absence of female researchers in the field in which she has had to participate. “In Chile as an engineer I have always had to be one of the few women in my work and at Harvard this also became evident”, he confesses.

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