One of the highlights of the Spring Semester was to visit the Thai National Observatory with my observational astronomy students from Yale-NUS College. Starting in 2014 I began investigating the observational astronomy facilities within the region of Singapore. I set up a conference at Yale-NUS College on the “Global Observatory Network for Solar System Observations” (GONSSO), and invited astronomers from Korea, Thailand, Taiwan, India, California and Malaysia to participate. This meeting was very productive and brought about collaborations with astronomers in all of the locations mentioned above – both site visits with students, and undergraduate summer projects grew out of this meeting. Examples include an undergraduate research program at Taiwan’s NCU and Lulin Observatory, an undergraduate research program at India’s Raman Research institute, collaborative research visits and talks at Korea’s SNU and the IUCAA in India, field trips with students to Malaysia to visit the National Observatory in Langkawi, and now the visit to NARIT in Thailand.
The Thai national observatory is a wonderful place – with a forward looking director of NARIT, Boonrucksar Soonthornthum. The NARIT and TNO staff graciously hosted our crew of 6 Yale-NUS students as we visited their headquarters in Chiang Mai. During our visit we made use of their 0.5 meter telescope from the Chiang Mai headquarters with a remote interface. Our crew of students camped out in the control room, and each student began to observe targets for their final projects in my observational astronomy class. Six separate projects were conducted – which included observations of binary stars, variable star light curves, HR diagrams of open clusters, and imaging of elliptical and spiral galaxies. The students were able to get spectacular data very efficiently with the telescopes from NARIT. We had the added bonus of being able to walk right outside and enjoy wonderful street food from a night market across the street! During the visit we also had a chance to tour Chiang Mai and its wonderful temples.
After a very enjoyable first night in Chiang Mai, we jumped into a bus, and drove South to the highest point in Thailand – the mountain known as Doi Inthanon, which at 2,457 meters (8061 feet) provided the best observing in Thailand. The NARIT and TNO people kindly let us stay at their guest lodge and we spent the night observing student projects as well as experiencing a glorious clear night on the roof of the observatory building. At the TNO are 2.4 meter telescopes, a 0.7 meter and 0.5 meter telescope and a very modern and comfortable control room which became the nerve center for our operations. The students and I really enjoyed the chance to see the Milky Way, and I gave them a complete star tour on the roof with a green laser pointer and binoculars. We were able to identify the whole set of constellations in the North and South (one advantage of observing near the equator). Perhaps more importantly the students became experts on the night sky – with groups of them observing open clusters and nebulae with binoculars on the roof, and other students taking beautiful deep images on the roof of the Milky Way. Below are some photos from our wonderful visit to Thailand. WE are very grateful to teh NARIT and TNO staff for hosting our Yale-NUS students.