Because everything has to come to an end

More the 3 year have passed since I started this adventure.

I can still remember the day when I got the first email saying that I was on the short list, the email to arrange my interview, the morning of the interview (for which I was sooooo nervous) and the final email from Rene saying that I had got the position if I wanted to take it. I cried so much that day, I ran all around my old institute to give the news to my friends, and I called my family saying I was going to do a PhD in the UK.

This adventure began with a day on a beach followed by a cold rainy night where I got to meet for the first time, the person who is guiding me on getting my work done.  I arrived in a house of strangers that today I considered my friends, very good friends. Also, I got such so a warm welcome at the university that made it very easy to adapt. Additionally, the help that I got from the language centre, specifically from Dr Katherine Taylor, which has helped make my time in Leeds, enjoyable.

I spent 18 months of my PhD in Spain, specifically at the European Space Agency (ESAC). Who would have thought that, I would have the opportunity to be in contact with so many incredible people, from different academic backgrounds, from so many different countries. Having the chance to live in a second European country in less than a year of moving here. Of course, everything was not easy, but the experience was excellent.

But because everything has to come to an end, I just want to thanks each person who made STARRY possible, Prof Rene Oudmaijer (supervisor), Dr Ricardo Perez (co-supervisor), Dr Deborah Baines (external expert), Patricia Grant (STARRY Project Manager) and of course, the European Union’s Horizon 2020.

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!

Citizen of the world

What question do I frequently get asked when I meet someone new? It is: Where are you from?  For me, this is a difficult question to answers! That is why my answer is always a question: Do you want to know where I come from or where I work?

You may ask yourself, it is a simple question, but for me it is not. I am a Venezuelan citizen who has lived in the UK, and now I am living in Spain; who knows where I will go next!

I have been studying (or working) in two different European cities, Leeds in the UK and Madrid in Spain, and not being an EU citizen has proved challenging at times. But I will not complain. So far, I have had a nice experience, legal challenges and a roller coaster of emotions, all that keep my days interesting.

STARRY has given me the opportunity to move between continents and countries, meet people from different places, helped me grow up more as a person, and created professional opportunities. Everything has not been perfect, but I have great support which has helped me through these days. I am grateful to be part of this project.

But well, to avoid difficult answers, I will say: I am a Citizen of the world, but I will never lose my essence (💛💙❤️).

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.


When you think of the holidays, what do you imagine? Being on the beach, the mountains, enjoying a relaxing time at home or exploring a new city? For some people however, the holidays are for working. Do you know what the word “Holiday” means? The dictionary defines it as an extended period of leisure and recreation; especially one spent away from home or travelling as well as a day of festivity where no work is done. It is a simple definition that does not always apply to a PhD student.

You may ask yourself; does not a PhD student continually travel? Are not they involved in lots of recreational activities?  As a PhD student, I can say that these questions are true and false at the same time. Which is very contradictory, right? It is true that we travel a lot, most of the time to attend conferences and workshops. Also, we get involved in social activities during these meetings and often have a small getaway to know the places we are visiting. However, it is false to think that we do not work on these trips, we are always doing something related to our research (talking with potential collaborators, showing our results to the community, making new relationships).

This does not mean we do not have holidays. We have them!!! We can take a couple of days off to explore new places, visit family and friends or relax for a while. What is also true is that a few of us do not know how to separate our personal life of our work life because our minds are always thinking about emails, papers, codes, etc.

Work! Work! Work! Always working!

Even if we are on holiday, I will come back to Leeds soon to have my first work visit since I started working in ISDEFE, Madrid WOOHOO! It will be great to be back in the UK for a couple of days to work directly with my supervisor and see my old office mates. Additionally, I will attend a star formation meeting in Edinburgh, Scotland (I know what you are thinking, more travel!).

Hopefully, everybody is enjoying their holidays (or will enjoy them soon).  Usually, they finish too fast!

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!

Conference season!

The time has come, we need to have the posters and talks ready, hotels and flights booked; and suitcases packed, it is conference season!!! From June to September most of the astrophysics conferences and workshops take place. It is during this period when academics, post-docs, and PhD students gather in different parts of the world to celebrate science.

But what does this mean exactly? During this time, generally for four days to a week, astronomers meet in a venue and listen to different people talk about their recent results or fascinating review talks about a specific topic. Also, we have poster presentations which is another alternative way to share the results of our work in a more relaxed form. This style is an option for those who do not present a talk.

The STARRY Team have their presentations ready to be shown at a few conferences during this season. Recently, from the 28 May to 01 June 2018 I attended “The Olympian Symposium 2018” in Paralia Katerini, Mount Olympus, Greece; where I presented a poster with the recent results of my project. Additionally, I attended the “Gaia DR2 Exploration Lab” in ESAC, Madrid from 25 – 29 June 2018. I also plan to attend and show a poster at the “XIII Scientific Meeting of the Spanish Astronomical Society” in Salamanca, Spain from 16 – 20 July 2018 and “The Wonders of Star Formation” in Edinburgh, Scotland from 3-7 September 2018.

These will be very busy and fun days where we will see old colleagues, meet new ones and update our knowledge with recent results. Plus, we have the opportunity to visit a new place.

It’s conference season and we are prepared!



Ask yourself this question: How do you prepare for the new data release of a space mission which is changing the perspective of how we look the sky? A few of the answers could be: Working as fast as you can, finishing your scripts, prepare the data, drafting the papers and probably not sleeping much.

Most of the scientific community was doing this before 25 April 2018 because that was the date for the second release of Gaia (Gaia DR2). As you might know, Gaia has measured the positions, distances, space motions and many physical characteristics of around a billion stars in our Galaxy and beyond. The analysis of this data will have a significant impact on the astronomical community, and now they have it!

For this release, we have the positions on the sky, parallaxes, and proper motions for more than 1.3 billion sources, median radial velocities for more than 7.2 million stars and so much more. Those numbers can be scary, but at the same time, they are exciting because for this more substantial number of sources we can point out and know exactly where they are. Besides the excellent team behind Gaia have performed a cross-matches between Gaia DR2 and catalogues like 2mass, SDSS DR9, Pan-STARRS1, GSC2.3, PPM-XL, AllWISE, like they did with the first release. Is this not amazing? Gaia team, thanks for making easier part of our work. For more information about Gaia DR2 and Gaia in general, visit

If I was surprised at how accurate Gaia DR1 was, and Gaia DR2 have changed everything. The impact on my project with the new data looks very promising. The new values for the five-parameter astrometric solution have given me better – and more precise – answers for my research which encourage me to continue exploring this data and hopefully make important discoveries.

So, what can I say? Gaia DR2 is finally here!

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.