Astronomy and wonderful people

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Today was the last day of the ESO annual review. I am just back from the closing party, and I cannot wait. I need to write something about it. During these days we got a full overview of the activities carried out at ESO. It is simply amazing. However, what impressed me more is people. Those people who make all this. I think the highest moment was reached during the talk by Massimo Tarenghi, former director of the VLT programme, and now ESO representative in Chile. He was one of the key figures at ESO under the directorship of Riccardo Giacconi, ESO’s Director General during the VLT era, and Nobel Prize for Physics in 2002.

Massimo gave a vivid talk, going through the main steps of the Very Large Telescope construction, fascinating the audience with lively episodes of that great endeavor. Among many intense moments, he told us about that day when Giacconi saw one of the first wonderful images taken by VLT-UT1 and the test camera. Giacconi himself, rather well known for his tough personality, was moved to tears looking at that astonishing image.

And when Massimo was describing this, he himself was clearly moved. And he told us that we need to be enthusiastic if we want our big dream, building a 40-meter telescope, becomes true.

While listening to Massimo I could not refrain from going back with my mind eyes to the times of my youth, when I was dreaming of telescopes, and my nights were dominated by starry [and very cold] skies. Last week we were visited by the Joseph Tailor, Nobel Prize for Physics in 1993. He told us about his discovery of a binary system hosting two neutron stars, which allowed him and Russel Hulse to first confirm the prediction of gravitational waves following from Einstein’s general relativity theory. Hearing this, first hand from one of the two discoverers, was simply awesome. One of those things…

I could see the amazement in the audience, not only in the young students’ eyes, but also in some of the more senior people. People like me, whose enthusiasm time has not yet extinguished.

So, indeed, we are all fascinated by the Universe. But in the end, what fascinates me more is people. Wonderful people.

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