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Violette, Italy

“This is a model of the James Webb Space Telescope. Maybe you saw its launch last week? It is a complex scientific project that took many years to develop. It allows us to look further into space than ever before, in search of our first building blocks. I was not involved in its creation, but I hope to be able to use it in my work.”

“I am an astronomer. I specialize in black holes. They are objects in space so large that their gravity pulls all matter and even light towards them. So, we usually can't see them. I worked at ALMA for nine years. That is the largest radio telescope we have on Earth, in a desert in Chile at 5000 meters altitude. We were the first to photograph a black hole there.”

“Last summer I arrived in Leiden. My husband and I wanted to live closer to our families, also for our children. The university has a strong astronomy department where I now lead a group of researchers that works with ALMA. We have come at a good time, this year Leiden is the European City of Science. There are activities every day. We also participate in that.”

“We organize two things with my group. A walking tour takes you past small antennas that we have set up throughout Leiden. You can connect with them with an app. As you progress, an astronomical image builds up on your screen. This is also how ALMA works, because it consists of 66 different radio antennas spread over an area the size of Leiden. And our second activity is for school children and is called: design your own alien.”

“Hey wait,” I say. “Do aliens actually exist?” "What do you think?" she laughs. “I think so, the universe is so big.” “That's right, I don't think there's any other way,” she agrees. “The question is not whether there is life in space, but whether we are able to discover it. That's the challenge. But there are plenty of planets where some form of life is possible.”

“Come to think of that, I do think that we should also look at our own planet. To me, earth is the most beautiful of them all, but it worries me how we deal with it. If we continue like this, it will become less and less habitable. Let's not forget that. And there is no alternative.”


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