The 3. NEON  school at Asiago Observatory (Italy)

The third NEON Euroschool on astronomical observations took place at Asiago Observatory in Italy (in the Veneto province) from September 9 to 21th. Following a now well established scheme, the first days of the school were devoted to lectures about the observation techniques, followed by seven nights of observation at the telescope and finally data reduction and presentation of the results at the end of the period.
Fifteen students from nine different nationalities (and many different institutes) had been selected out of more than 60 applicants, for this important event in optical/IR astronomy. H. Bouy (ESO-Garching), R. Collet (Uppsala), B. Gonzales-Garcia (Madrid), A. Graz-Velasquez (Dublin), F. Guglielmetti (MPE-Garching), M. Hempel (ESO), B. Hogg (Nottingham), S. Leccia (Catania), E. Manthey (Bochum), D. Michielsen (Gent), B. O'Connell (Armagh),
T. Repolust (Munich Obs.), I. Yegorova (Odessa), O. Zamora-Sanchez (Granada) and A. Zeh (Tautenburg) came in on a nice sunday to find a charming environment where everything had been arranged by the local staff to provide excellent conditions for a fruitfull school.

The introductory lectures took place in the refurbished building of the Schmidt telescope, now transferred to the summit
of the nearby Cima Ekkar mountain, where the 1.82m telescope is also located (it can be seen on the summit on the upper
left of the  image, just above the trees). C. Barbieri, from the University of Padova, gave the first lecture on telescope optics,
immediately followed by a live demonstration during the tour of the Observatory, under the guidance of our local host,
P. Raffanelli. Particular emphasis on the advantages of high-resolution imaging was given by R. Falomo (Padova).
The basic properties of astronomical detectors were presented by M. Dennefeld (University of Paris), setting
the background for photometric techniques presented by H. Roeser (Heidelberg). Spectroscopy, beeing a major tool in
observationnal astronomy, was discussed in its various aspects by several lecturers: low-dispersion (M. Dennefeld, Paris),
high-dispersion (R. Gratton, Padova) and spectro-polarimetry (C. Pernechele, Padova). The use of archival data in the
Virtual Observatory was also introduced by A. Pasquali (ESO), a resource which prooved to be very usefull during the rest
of the school!  And, before the observations started, the techniques of image analysis and source extraction were explained
by C. Alard (Paris). The program was rather dense in the first days, but ample time was provided for discussions, in
particular during breaks in the fresh air of the nearby mountains!

But, of course, the main part of the school was the observing at the telescope. Divided in small groups of 3, each under
the supervision of an experienced astronomer, the students conducted specific observing programs at the forefront of
research. A Pizzella (Padova) proposed to measure rotation curves of galaxies, to derive their masses, and  measured also
their M/L ratios, with the help of additionnal broad-band images. S. Pedraz (Calar Alto) proposed to compare the stellar
populations in giant and in dwarf elliptical galaxies, by means of broad-band photometry and low dispersion spectroscopy.
H. Kuntschner (ESO) had a related program, concentrating more on nearby, elliptical galaxies, but extending the sequence
to later type, spiral galaxies. This provided an excellent opportunity for collaboration between these two groups, including
sharing data and some observing time. C. Mullis (ESO) proposed a challenging program for medium-sized telescopes, to
detect by imaging and study in spectroscopy clusters of galaxies hidden behind the Milky Way, but detected thanks to
X-ray data from the Chandra satellite. And E. Giro (Padova) proposed to use the spectropolarimetric tools available in
Asiago (and rarely elsewhere...) to study the emission bands in Symbiotic stars, believed to be produced by scattering of
OVI UV photons, and therefore polarised, contrary to other, more classical emission, like Halpha. These programs made
good use of the AFOSC  on the 1.82m telescope, a versatile spectro-imager installed at the Cassegrain focus. The 1.2m
was also used, with its low-dispersion, B&C spectrograph , to provide classification spectra before entering the detailed
studies at the larger telescope. And  other practical skills were acquired at the Schmidt telescope, where adjustement of
the telescope and camera were finished under the guidance of C. Barbieri.

Heavy data reduction work was necessary to bring the results to a form presentable the last day of the school. And the
wheather, which was not always very cooperative, complicated the process a bit, some groups obtaining their data in last
moment only...but the results and the presentations were at the level of international conferences, showing the quality
and motivation of the students (and of their tutors!). And, despite this urgent work, time was also found to listen to more
 lectures, devoted to modern techniques and perspectives, for instance about adaptive optics and laser guide stars
(R. Gredel, Calar Alto) or about the innovations in 8m class telescopes (S. Ortolani, Padova) leading to the future "giants"
of the 50-100m class. Participants seemed to be very satisfied by  the school, and several cooperative
programs have seen their start during this period: the size of the group, the availability of teachers and tutors,  the
relaxed ambiance of a summer school and the quality of the board and lodging provided by Albergo Ristorante Pennar
certainly contributed to this success.