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Are you fascinated by the sky and stars? Have you always wanted to observe the Moon, Sun and the wonders of the nocturnal sky? Are you passionate about astronomy? And do you have a desire to understand the mysteries of the Universe?
Then join us in the mountains under the pure sky at the Saint-Luc Astronomic Observatory to spend the nights observing, illustrating and contributing to a better understanding of our Galaxy.
During your expedition, you will learn to recognize all the different types of stars; you will observe and will make measurements that will allow you to observe the luminosity of the stars, which change anywhere from a few hours to a few days.
You will discover how to use specialist tools, such as telescopes and electronic cameras, which will be useful for observations and gathering scientific data.
During the trip, you will be able to observe, illustrate and analyze all the phases of the life cycle of stars: from the nebula from which it is born all the way through to the nebula that emerges after its death.
We will spend several nights at the François Xavier Bagnoud Astronomic Observatory, situated in the heights of Saint-Luc. Equipped with professional telescopes, this observatory will be our operational base.
The research project
Our galaxy, the Milky Way, contains more than 200 billion stars. These stars are all different. Some only make up a small percentage of the mass of the Sun, while other monsters can reach several hundred times the mass of our star.
The fate of each of these stars is connected to its mass and the consequences of their death can be terrible.
All that we can observe in the Universe is linked to the life of stars. The Earth, the Moon, and even the atoms that make up living beings have all been produced by a star. We are made from stardust. But the stars equally can present a danger: a massive eruption from the Sun or a star explosion in our solar suburbia could send man back to the Stone Age, or worse.
It is thus indispensable to better recognize and understand the stars in order to be able to anticipate any potential dangers that could threaten humanity.
Certain stars are called ‘variable’ stars, their brightness changes over the course of time. This variability has different origins: binary systems, pulsations of the atmosphere, cataclysmic eruptions may even mean the explosion of a star.
However, certain variations in brightness can be very subtle as they may be caused by the passing of a planet in front of another star.
Numerous processes explaining these variations in brightness are still unverified, which is why astrophysicists need observations in order to be able to better describe the changes produced in stars and also to understand the physical mechanisms in play.
The aim of the expedition will be to follow variable stars, especially those that have unpredictable behavior, in order to detect potential massive eruptions (eruptive stars, nova, supernova).
For the trips taking place during a full moon period, it will be the Sun, the star of the camp. We will follow and count its solar eruptions and will study the evolution of its sunspots during the day. At night, we will discover or perfect our techniques of taking images of the Moon and its innumerable craters, without forgetting to take some observations of the sky!
The mountain village of Saint-Luc is situated in the Val d’Anniviers, a wild and charming valley in the Canton of Valais. The surrounding summits mostly measure above 3000m, of which 4 are above 4000 meters! There we can admire the Cervin (Matterhorn) mountain, the most famous in Switzerland. The geology is particularly rich in this valley, due, amongst other things, to the formation of the Alps, and this location has thus experienced strong mining activity during prehistoric times (crystals, metals…). Today, it is possible to visit certain mines with Objective Sciences International and the various minerals are exposed. It’s worth noting that one of them is a bit special… because it shines at night!
The mountainous backdrops are as magnificent in the summer as they are in the winter. Whether watching from the window or taking a walk, the lakes, passes, summits and high prairies are breath-taking. There are also a number of glaciers, like the Moiry Glacier, by the foot of which we go bivouacking in the summer. The enormous size of this dormant water reflected in the mirror of a high lake, associated with high views, always provokes a certain emotion. The biodiversity that grows, runs and flies is also remarkable and abundant, from alpine flora to royal eagles, deer and other original locusts. This is the ideal setting for learning all the stages of hiking and managing a campfire.
In the Val d’Anniviers, there are only a few rustic villages, and it is a well-preserved valley, although inhabited for many years. The valley does indeed have a rich history. Here one can find two rock sites, mysterious Neolithic remnants, and many mills from the 18th century who were witness to strong activity around rye flour. As you will see, the rustic architecture is very particular and completely adapted to the specific constraints of this mountain zone.
In the summer, the villages of Saint-Luc, Zinal and Grimentz are the hiking starting points for lovers of nature and the mountains, with routes suitable for both beginners and experts, which allow for walking or mountain biking in front of superb landscapes.
One big benefit of the location is the Swiss Post bus, which allows us to easily connect to all the major points of the valley and helps us to limit our carbon footprint.
Day to day proceedings
The research activities will take place in the middle of the night. You have permission to stay up until midnight, and even later! Of course, the observation evenings will be followed by a relaxed morning, allowing you to recharge your batteries in order to be ready for the following evening.
The end of morning activity will consist of preparing the evening observations: to see if the weather will be favorable, to choose the targets that will be observed and to organize the observation (map of the sky, order of observations…). In the afternoon, we will perform a scientific activity and the observations will be performed at nightfall.
National Holiday of Switzerland
On the expeditions which fall around the 1st August, we will celebrate the National Holiday of Switzerland as it should be celebrated, truly typical in these mountain heights, with its fireworks, enormous bonfire, lanterns, traditional music:… and on the winter expeditions we celebrate the New Year.
Below are some photos taken by our partner photographer Armando SIN, during the National Day of 1st August 2011 in the Val d’Anniviers. These shots were composed in an artistic approach relating to the “past” colors of these images of the crafts of yesteryear presented on this day of celebration.
The afternoon and the evening of 1st August celebrated in the Valley. We take the opportunity to sleep under the stars after the party.
Maxime Spano is responsible for the OSI’s scientific program “Universe” in astronomy. As an astrophysicist, he completed his earliest research on the mysterious black matter in the galaxies at the observatory in Marseille before completing his thesis at the observatory at Genera on variable stars. He has many years of experience in astronomy and astrophysics. As an observer, he has practiced astronomy with many instruments: from small amateur telescopes to professional instruments in the Chilean Desert.
Corinne Charbonnel, associate professor at the Observatory of Geneva. Internationally recognized specialist in the research of the structure, formation and evolution of stars with small masses and intermediate masses, on stellar and primordial nucleosynthesis, and on the chemical evolution of star clusters and galaxies.
Our accommodation in the Val d’Anniviers is the Grand Hôtel du Cervin. A magnificent hotel dating back to the Romantic era in the Alpes, which was built in 1883 and is today classed as a historic building by the Valais. The hotel, found in the heart of Saint-Luc, offers easy access to the slopes in winter and hiking during summer, as it is less than 15 minutes away by foot from the funicular railway. This also allows us to go to the astronomic observatory that is found at the top of the funicular, and to have the funicular just for us in the middle of the night – what a fantastic experience! This allows us to reduce our movement and our carbon footprint. In addition, we have easy access to the Swiss Post bus who stops at all the important places in the Valley.
The interior of the Grand Hôtel du Cervin has been regularly maintained since its initial construction, and has been renovated whilst respecting the history and the architecture of its location. We use spacious four-bedded rooms with two bunkbeds in the children’s rooms, and a double bed in the parents’ rooms. This large building allows us to have a number of spaces for our activities, or even just for lazing around.
The meals are mostly typical, from mountain cuisine to Italian cuisine. We are lucky to have a traditional raclette once a week (big wheels of cheese that melt, but we won’t say too much more). It is therefore in a warm and friendly atmosphere that we will live in this historic hotel, in the heart of the Swiss culture and overlooking a gorgeous valley.
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