The End of the Project

Four years after I got the offer to start a PhD at the University of Leeds I start to see the end of that project on the horizon. When I was offered the position I was still a masters student in Madrid, willing to begin a career in astronomy and eager to start a PhD. I knew very little about astronomy, life and independent research. I did not know that much about English either. Now, thanks to the opportunity that the STARRY team in the Astronomy department of the University of Leeds gave me I had the chance to fulfil all my expectations. It has been four years with more travels than I can remember, conferences, observing runs, seminars, visits and a wonderful secondment at the Centro de Astrobiología and Isdefe in ESAC, Madrid. Thanks to this project I had the chance to learn about whatever I wanted to learn, research independently and have support in any question I had.

In these four years, I learnt many things that now I have assimilated as intuitive. I have learnt how to publish, how to communicate, how to do outreach, how to present my results at international conferences and how to interact with other researchers. In short, I have learnt how to do science. During the project, I developed my own novel techniques that ended up in different papers submitted to top-ranked peer-reviewed publications. Another example of the dimension of my personal development is the improvement I can see from my first talk to the last one, both in form and content.

In the personal ground, living in the UK has been a great experience. I had the chance to learn about a new culture and a new way of living. During these years I had the opportunity to travel around the UK and explore its wonderful landscapes and cities. Living in Leeds also gave me the opportunity to meet some great people and to start many friendships that will last for long, in addition to perfecting my Yorkshire accent. The secondment at ISDEFE (Centro de Astrobiología) gave me the opportunity to explore the city I studied in from a more mature and free perspective, and to meet the wonderful people that work there. They gave me a beautiful warm welcome and still make me feel at home every time I visit.

Now, I am writing up the last details of my PhD thesis, getting everything ready to close this stage of my life and embark on a new adventure still within Astronomy. A new adventure in which everything I have learnt in the STARRY project will still have a large impact.

Back in Leeds

After a year and a half in Madrid, I am finally back in Leeds to finish my Ph.D. It has been a great experience to work at ESAC, mingling with many different experts in a variety of fields and having the chance of researching with a team of Gaia experts. I also left behind good friends and lovely experiences in the Centro the Astrobiología. Although I have been there for many months, it seems that it was a very short secondment. I hope I will be able to visit again in the future.

However, now it is time to look to the future. After a few weeks of trying to settle down in Leeds and looking for accommodation, I am finally intensively back to work as if I have never left, very excited and motivated with the new part of the project and the promising results. It is very nice to be back and I was very welcomed by my old colleagues. Everything seems to be as nice and good as I left it, although a number of PhD students have successfully finished and moved on with their careers, new faces have arrived to the office. It is time to work hard because we will attend a Gaia symposium at ESTEC in about one month, where we wish to present a draft of our new results.  I am very excited about sharing them with the Gaia community and it will be also great to get to know the ESA headquarters at the Netherlands.

We also started to organize our own conference, which will stand as the final milestone of the STARRY project. It will be held in Leeds on the 18-21 June this year. As a part of the LOC, I am learning a lot about how to organize this kind of events and all the work that requires the planning and organising, including all the minor things that have to be taken into account. I think it is a great opportunity that I have the chance to be part of the organization as it will be a great experience for the future. It is very exciting!

Big Data and Conference Talk

The conference in Warsaw was very fruitful. I gave a talk on the first day that was very welcomed, with lots of questions and some interesting suggestions for improvement. The rest of the conference was very interesting, with plenty of talks that covered the topics of Star Formation and Gaia plus a bunch of other very interesting topics less related to the project. In the talk, I presented our first paper and a bit of our plans for the future. This future plans go through applying Big Data tools to Gaia data, and that is why I also decided to go to Tenerife to attend the annual Winter School which topic this year was “Big Data Analysis in Astronomy”.

The school was also extremely useful. I had the chance to present our work, ideas and preliminary results to experts in the field who advised us on our mistakes and on possible new paths and ideas to develop. They also took us on excursion to the Teide Observatory in Tenerife and to the Roque de los Muchachos Observatory in La Palma. There, we visit many telescopes, some of them the largest of their kind in the world and many of them historical telescopes which made significant contributions to the history of astronomy. In particular, I found very interesting to visit the solar telescopes they have in Tenerife. In addition, we visit the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias (IAC) where we had a public talk about Machine Learning.

In conclusion, these last months have been very productive and the output of the two meetings will have a large impact in the project. I have learnt different state-of-the-art techniques and algorithms to deal with large datasets and also understood how they can be applied to astronomy. The ideas given by our peers will be discussed and implemented. I am looking forward for presenting the new results to the community within the next year.

First paper and more

After a few months of hard work, redoing work and adapting our techniques to Gaia DR2 we finally got the first paper of the project out, under the name of “Gaia DR2 study of Herbig Ae/Be stars”. The paper is the result of almost a year of efforts and we hope it will be well received by the community. Accepted for publication in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics, it will be published soon.

Therefore, now is time to start thinking about the next step of the project. It is thrilling to start a new research question but it also brings a new set of difficulties and complications that have to overcome. In short, it is the funniest part of researching but also the most challenging.

This new stage coincides with my last months at ESAC in Madrid, I just have four more months before I go back to Leeds. However, we already have a few conferences scheduled for these months. I am going to the conference “A revolution in stellar physics with Gaia and large surveys” in Warsaw at the beginning of September where I will present a talk about the results of this first paper and more. I am excited about presenting our results in a conference dedicated to Gaia and its applications. In addition, in November I will go to the “XXX Canary Islands Winter School of Astrophysics”, a workshop about big data in Astronomy, which will be of capital importance for us considering the nature of our project. Some of the biggest experts in the field are attending!

New parallaxes

The 25th of April the second data release of the Gaia data was made available to the community in a spectacular press release. In short, approximately 1.3 billion sources with positions, parallaxes (proxies of distances) and proper motions (that describe how the stars move in the sky) were suddenly available to play with. I was not surprised when the Archive went down soon after the release. It was thrilling to live the release of the new data from the very beginning as it will constitute a big milestone in the history of Astronomy, and I am happy that we were able to use the data from the very first day.

That very day we were at the Space Telescope Science Institute attending to the 2018 Spring Symposium to which I contributed with a talk. It was a great experience to visit such a prestigious Institute and we had the chance of meeting a lot of interesting people and learn a lot from the different talks linked by the HR diagram topic.

Now, I am back in Madrid trying to process as fast as possible all the new Gaia information, preparing all the ideas we gathered in the previous months and playing with the new data to test what we can we do and how far can we aim for with the new information the Gaia satellite has provided us. It is important to understand all the caveats and peculiarities of the data and that might take some time. Hopefully for the next conference we are attending, The Olympian Symposium 2018, which is held Greece starting on the 28th of May we will be able to present our new final results based on the new data.

Preparing for Gaia Data Release 2

The 25th of April the second data release of the Gaia data will be presented to the community. That day we will be at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore attending to the Symposium “The 21st Century H-R Diagram: The Power of Precision Photometry”, in which I will give a talk about what we have done, and plan to do, with the Gaia data. This will be a great opportunity to share with the community our knowledge of using the new astrometric values and to learn what other people around the world have in mind about the same subject.

Another good new is that I applied for admission to the Spanish Astronomical Society which annual meeting will be held this year in Salamanca in July. We will attend this meeting and hopefully we will present fresh new results obtained with the new set of data.

These months have been pretty cold in Madrid (and apparently in the whole Europe) but despite of that I managed to go to Leeds for a week in mid February and come back with some nice work done. I might go again soon after the 25th of April for fine tuning the way we approach the Gaia data.

The Proceedings of the “Star Formation in Space and Time” Symposium, for which we contributed with a poster, are now public while the ones from the “Astrometry and Astrophysics in the Gaia Sky” Symposium are soon to come.

A new year begins

A new year of ideas and expectatives begins while we are still gathering the results produced at the end of 2017. Rene Oudmaijer, my PhD main supervisor, came to visit ESAC at the end of December what resulted in a few days of intense hands-on work. Together we finished outlining the first segment of the project and planned for the future. Now the next milestone is Gaia Data Release 2 (DR2), planned for the second half of April, when we will face the new technical difficulties arising from a new catalogue. Therefore, the more we can do beforehand the better.

Shortly before Rene’s visit I attended, together with Alice, the ESAC Data Analysis and Statistics Workshop. We learnt a lot about Bayesian Statistics, Machine Learning and Python programming in statistics. The idea is to implement the new knowledge to the project as soon as possible, as it will be of the utmost importance in order to describe the results that will be obtained with DR2.

It is quite important to have an impact on the community. Hence, this January I presented the work I did during my first year of PhD at the Journal Club of the Astrobiology Center in Madrid. We plan to go to the Olympian Symposium in Greece at the end of May and, once in the deep Spanish summer, we will go to the national Spanish astronomy meeting in Salamanca.

Nonetheless, the event that made me happier was the public talk I gave about star formation at the Isabel the España college residence. It was heart-warming to see the reaction of the general public and the interest aroused.

Beginning of my secondment

Many things have happened since my last blog entry. We went to the Francesco’s Legacy, Star Formation in Space and Time conference in Florence, where both Alice and myself presented a poster and Rene gave a talk. The conference itself was very instructive and we had a great time in Florence.

Short after that, I left Leeds to start my secondment in Madrid. It was sad to leave Leeds after 10 months working there, say goodbye to my peers and colleagues and move to another town. However, the people at the ISDEFE & European Space Astronomy Centre (ESAC) welcomed me very nicely and I am extremely pleased in my new office. Nonetheless, it was not so long until I had to go back to the UK, at the beginning of July we went to the National Astronomy Meeting in Hull and by the end of the month I had to go back to Leeds University for my first year viva, which I successfully passed.

After summer holidays, we had the chance to know Liverpool as the Northern Star Formation meeting was hold there. The meeting was very cosy and enjoyed by all the assistants, so we agreed it will be repeated next year in Manchester.

That was not the last trip, the first week of October we went to observe to the William Herschel Telescope at La Palma. It was a fantastic experience; we learnt and enjoyed a lot in the three nights we stayed on top of the mountain. I am really looking forward to go observing again soon. It is easy to forget that stars are really above us to be observed after so many days looking at numbers on the screen.

Between trips and trips I keep working in my new office in Madrid, learning the most out of the new environment of astronomers, engineers and archive people. I truly think I am going to have a productive and enjoyable time in this secondment in Madrid.

Nice Symposium: Astrometry and Astrophysics in the Gaia sky

This last month, Rene Oudmaijer and myself attended the IAU Symposium 330, Astrometry and Astrophysics in the Gaia sky in Nice (24-28th April). They were five days of talks from many different fields in astronomy with the Gaia project in common. It was very useful to see how the Gaia DR1 data can be used in such a variety of ways, and gave us many ideas to implement in our project. It was also very useful for getting prepared for Gaia DR2 (to be released by April 2018), as many people presented their ambitions for the future. As a general thought, it was great to see the enthusiasm Gaia is bringing to the community and the high level expectations many research groups have for future publications thanks to the new era in astrometry.

On our side, we presented a poster with the current state of our research. The poster was displayed during the whole congress and there was a special one hour long poster session in which I had the chance of explaining our work to the people interested. It was the first public presentation of the project to the community and I have to say I am very happy about the reception it had. The poster will be shown again in the Florence congress “Francesco’s Legacy – Star Formation in Space and Time” at the beginning of June and also will appear in the conference proceedings to be published about six months after the end of it.

The symposium itself was great, very well organised and with plenty of amenities, we even had the opportunity to go the the observatory of Nice, that opened in 1887 and at some point was the highest in the world (325m over the sea level). I had the chance to talk to many other researchers from my field and from other fields, explain my project and ideas and listen to theirs. Summarizing, I think it was a very productive congress, definitely was worth to go and it was a great experience that will have a very positive impact in the STARRY project. I am really looking forward to the next congress.

Halfway through my first stage at Leeds

We are in the middle of February and the moment to go to Madrid for the second part of the project is getting closer. This proximity is making me realize that time flies in a project of this dimension. It seems that it was yesterday when Rene was explaining me for the first time the aims of the project. These last months have been quite productive resulting in an exponential growth of the ideas we have. I hope that before the time to go to Madrid comes all the project related ideas we have now will be well defined and polished, so we will be able to extract the best out of them in Madrid.
In a closer future, we are preparing ourselves for the First Gaia Science Symposium in Nice at the end of April and the work we are going to present there. I am very excited about that trip as it is the first opportunity for me to present my work in this project to the community. It will be very useful to see how other groups are using the Gaia DR1 data and how they are planning to use Gaia DR2 data. The huge amount of data Gaia is going to provide make the catalogue extremely polyvalent and hence it will be very useful to know other groups and ideas.
Alice Perez has now joined the project at the beginning of January and she is already fully integrated in the Leeds Astronomy department.  With her here the STARRY project has finally completely started and we all will see how this results in an improvement in our work.