Out of This World

Madrid professors adapt a coveted astronomy course to distance learning


Photographs from top left: NASA/SOFIA/E. Lopez-Rodriguez; NASA/Spitzer/J. Moustakas et al., Image processing by AliAbbasiPov; courtesy of Silvia Salazar and Hristo Stoev (2)

Story by Kimberly Winter Stern

The problem may have seemed like the stuff of a feverish science fiction writer’s imagination: Star Trek meets Contagion, but two Suffolk Madrid professors rose to the challenge. 


To accommodate the constraints of a global pandemic, Professors Maria Cruz Gálvez and Hristo Stoev virtually recreated an astronomy learning adventure that usually takes place at Mount Teide in the Canary Islands, where an observatory is perched atop the world’s third-tallest volcanic structure.


Embracing the challenge to reinvent the sought-after four-night lab that includes eye-popping fieldwork and island exploration, Gálvez and Stoev choreographed a virtual solar-system-surfing rendezvous that afforded students an unusual glimpse into the starry universe.


Many students had dispersed from the Madrid campus to quarantine with their families. Instead of boarding a plane to Tenerife, they logged in from time zones around the world, connecting to a robotic telescope on the Canary Island of La Palma. Stellarium, a planetarium software that creates breathtaking 3D simulations of the night sky, enabled Gálvez and Stoev’s intrepid virtual pioneers to travel where no Suffolk University student had before, planet and moon-hopping from home.


The tool provided each student an opportunity to pursue research.


“The access to this online program allowed me to look at a black hole thousands of light years away,” said Mikayla Hopkins, Class of 2022. “Whether it was the weather in the Southern Hemisphere on the day they were born or the path of an asteroid going over Poland last week, students got to use the tool to satisfy their own interests,” she adds.


Mount Tiede

Suffolk University Magazine

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