Tag Archive | Tech

She's an Astronomer: Aida Berges


Entrevista de Aida en español

Aida Berges (“lovethetropics“) lives in Puerto Rico with her husband and children. Originally from the Dominican Republic, she studied there in an all girl Catholic school (Colegio del Apostolado) where she was inspired by her her history teacher (Rosa Maria Reyes Feriz). After graduation she started a university degree in Law where Supreme Court Judge Ana Rosa Berges Dreyfuss (a family member) became a beloved teacher. After finishing her degree in English at a different university, she worked various secretarial jobs and as a translator. She moved to Puerto Rico to live with her eldest brother and his wife, and there met husband (Benito Garcia Mendez). Her main job for the last almost 30 years has been as a dedicated wife and mother to children Benny and Laura (now grown; Benny works in retail and Laura is finishing her Masters’s degree in Psychology). The family spent most of this time in Puerto Rico, except for a 7 year spell in New Jersey where the children were born. Aida loves to read history, science fiction and fantasy.  She has 3 dogs and one cat.  And she loves the ocean, especially going to the beach or just watching the waves.

  • How did you first hear about Galaxy Zoo?

I was reading CNN online and found an article describing how a very young teacher from the Netherlands had found a new kind of object and it was called Hanny’s Voorwerp.  It was an article to celebrate the first year of Galaxy Zoo.  I went to Galaxy Zoo immediately and my life changed forever…It was like coming home for me.

  • What has been your main involvement in the Galaxy Zoo project?

I am part of the Irregulars Project and also the Hyper-Velocity Stars Project (and check out their blog).  In the Irregulars Project I look for irregulars galaxies and send them to Richard Proctor to be integrated into the hunt.  We now have more than 17,000 irregulars and the numbers keep growing every day. And we still need the help of the Zooites with their clicks on the Irregular Hunt (check out the Irregulars Project forum discussion).   I send Richard between 100 and 500 possible irregulars every week. I also worked on the three Pea hunts, the Mergers hunt, the Voorwerpjes hunt and the Supernova hunt. And I found an unusual green object ages ago which has been dubbed Aida’s disturbed green mystery object and has been an object of the day (OOTD). We still don’t know what it is.

Both major projects I’m involved have been pure coincidence or serendipity.  With the Irregulars Project I was the one getting the galaxies for the hunt and when we decided to write the first paper about astronomy without being astronomers I was included.  I classified by myself 24,000 galaxies to clean the sample from spirals, elliptical galaxies, artifacts and unidentifiable blobs.  Then classified 12,000 more!

For the HVSs project it was pure coincidence that I found two in about five minutes.  I had to Google the term Hyper-velocity Stars because I had no idea they existed.  Posted it on the newbies thread and I had to post an “Object of the Day” (OOTD on High Velocity Stars) and Thomas Jennings gave me the idea to post the known HVSs. Zookeeper Jordan read the OOTD and got so excited a group of fearless zooites decided to look for more, I am one of them…we are almost ready to post the first entry on a new thread for them on Galaxy Zoo. So far there are only 16 or 17 known HVSs.  But we are still very optimist we can find more of them even if it is for sheer numbers. (We zooites are bigger than the Swiss Army.)

  • What do you like most about being involved in Galaxy Zoo?
What I like the most is helping scientists discover new things and being there when that happens. And the people at the Zoo are wonderful, starting with the Moderators, Zookeepers and Zooites.  For me it feels like coming home.
  • What do you think is the most interesting astronomical question Galaxy Zoo will help to solve?
With every question we answer we get ten new questions. First I would like to know the place of the Irregular Galaxies in the universe. Then would like to know if there are other Voorwerpen and would like to know how the Voorwerpje saga ends. And how the spiderweb ring galaxies (Eds note: Aida’s name for ring galaxies with very low surface brightness extended rings like this one) are formed. They are the most beautiful galaxies for me. And how the shockwave ring galaxies are formed too. So many questions, so little coffee.

  • How/when did you first get interested in Astronomy?
When I was young I lived in the country so the moon and stars were spectacular…ever since I first saw the stars I have been interested.  I started to surf the internet because I wanted to read everything I could about astronomy.
  • What (if any) do you think are the main barriers to women’s involvement in Astronomy?
Well, I come from a third world country, the Dominican Republic.  In my time girls were supposed to marry young and be housewives, but now I see that the universities there are full of women studying and that makes me so proud. There are no barriers now for us, maybe just a few reluctant men, but we are winning.

  • Do you have any particular role models in Astronomy?

I would have to say that the Zookeepers are my role models because before getting involved on Galaxy Zoo I didn’t know any astronomers. Chris Lintott and Jordan Raddick specially because we are doing the Irregulars Project together. And Jordan Raddick is double because he is helping us with the HVSs. And Bill Keel (NGC3314), I am helping him get more possible Voorwepjes. Thomas Jennings started the Newbies thread and has gone back to college to study Astronomy.  That’s what I call commitment. The person who inspired me to love science in general was my sister Adolfina.  She is a medical doctor with specialties in Pediatrics and Hematology.  She and her husband, who is also a hematologist discovered an element in the blood unknown until they found it.  She is also the best and most loving sister anyone can have.

I would also like to include thanks to my parents Rafael Bergés Lara and Thelma García de Bergés, and my Uncle Manuel Bergés Lara and Aunt Carmen

Entrevista de Aida en español

This post is part of the ongoing She’s an Astronomer series on the Galaxy Zoo Blog is support of the IYA2009 cornerstone project of the same name (She’s an Astronomer). We are listed on the She’s an Astronomer website in their Profiles. This is the 7th post of the series. So far we have interviewed

  • Hanny Van Arkel (Galaxy Zoo volunteer and finder of Hanny’s Voorwerp).
  • Dr. Vardha Nicola Bennert (researcher at UCSB involved in Hanny’s Voorwerp followup and the “peas” project).
  • Alice Sheppard (Galaxy Zoo volunteer and forum moderator).
  • Carie Cardamone (graduate student at Yale who lead the Peas paper).
  • Gemma Couglin (“fluffyporcupine”, Galaxy Zoo volunteer and forum moderator).
  • Dr. Kate Land (original Galaxy Zoo team member and first-author of the first Galaxy Zoo scientific publication; now working in the financial world).

Still to come in the series – more Galaxy Zoo volunteers and researchers. We’re not done yet!

NGC 3314 gets a counterpart

 Not that I’m about to change my avatar or anything, but I think this is one of the best pairs we observed from Kitt Peak. First pointed out in the Galaxy Zoo forum by GwydionM, this features a face-on spiral almost exactly in front of an edge-on spiral. Like NGC 3314, it gives a rare chance to see the dust content of a galaxy almost all the way from outer regions to the nucleus (limited there by the accuracy with which we can extrapolate the profile of the background galaxy inward). This also drives home a point which isn’t always obvious from pictures, and is especially insidious when looking at books where the pictures tend to be all about the same size. Similar-looking galaxies can span a wide range of sizes, even among spirals which don’t come as small and faint as spheroidal or irregular galaxies. We don’t yet have good redshifts for both; the Sloan data give the single value z=0.067 for what must be the blended light of both, probably meaning that they are at similar redshifts so the size comparison in this picture is pretty close to reality.  This image come from the first fruits of the next stage in processing our data, one which leaves them ready to analyze. To sample red light, we used an I filter rather similar to the SDSS i band. For the particular CCD we used, the skyglow that it sees causes a pattern of interference fringes from light reflecting within the chip. This can be calibrated and subtracted only using data on the night sky itself. We combined images where the target galaxies were at different places on the detector while rejecting objects that were at a certain pixel value only once (that is, things on the sky) to leave, ideally, only the interference pattern. I’m still tweaking until we decide that we’re close enough to that ideal…   SDSS 1145+35 color image                             If you look closely, you can spot the heavily reddened core of the background galaxy behind the spiral arm to the lower right of the foreground galaxy core, and note the darker absorption next  to those spiral arms. (I’ll be watching to see how this image shows up – this is the first time the regular Zookeepers let me have the keys to the blog, and I’m feeling my way around. It looked sort of odd in preview).