The 2011 NEON school at Moletai Observatory (Lithuania)

The 9th Neon observing school took place at Moletai Observatory (Lithuanai) from July 14 to 27th, 2011. Twenty students, from sixteen different nationalities, used the 1.65m telescope and the 0.51/0.35m Maksutov telescope locally at Moletai to execute small research programs under the supervision of experienced tutors. In addition, to provide the necessary spectroscopy, the Nordic Optical Telescope at LaPalma was used in remote control during 5 half nights, under the expert guidance of Thomas Augusteijn.

As now usual in NEON schools, some introductory lectures explained the  fundamentals of imaging, photometry, spectroscopy, etc...including the details of the instrumental set-up.

A visit of the facilities gave to the participants the opportunity to see the various telescopes, and to appreciate the nice location of the observatory, including the local sauna and swimming facilities. 

Etno-Cosmo Museum


The tutors guided the participants into the following programs:

- Vygandas Laugalys, with Betul Civelekler, Sandor Kruk, Athanasios Papageorgiou and Lucia Rodriguez-Muñoz, studied the open cluster IC 4756 in Serpens. Photometry was done with the Vilnius filter system helped to classify the stars and establish that the targets selected for spectroscopy were all belonging to the cluster. High-resolution spectroscopy with FIES at the NOT determined the gravity and temperature of the stars, as well as the abundance of the most abundant elements. A sodium overabundance was found, whose origin is not clear yet, but most probably due to an episode of Neon burning and subsequent dredge-up from the H-burning shell.   

- Lorenzo Morelli, with Julija Bagdonaite, Nemanja Martinovic, Marko Pratnekar and Phil Sutton, observed the nearly ege-on galaxies NGC 5866 and NGC 5879, both in photometry with the Vilnius filter system, and in spectroscopy at low-resolution with ALFOSC on the NOT. After carefull calibration of all the data, Lick indices  were reconstructed, and ages and abundaces determined with respect to radial distance from the center. No gradient in age was found, while the light comes essentially from a young stellar population of 3-5 Gyr. A gradient in metallicity was found, with higher values in the center (as expected), but no gradient in alpha over Fe. 

- Erika Pakstiene, with Zuzana Krisandova, Aleksander Kurek, Julien Milli and Elisa Portaluri did fast photometry of variable white dwarfs to extract the various pulsations. In view of the short observing periods, only the highest frequencies could be determined;  not all of them could be found however, as stacking of several more nights of observations would be necessary to find those with the lowest amplitudes. Intermediate resolution spectroscopy of various WD candidates at the NOT with ALFSOC, helped to refine the classification and demonstrate the variety of WD types existing in nature.

- Heidi Korhonen, with Maria Gritsevich, Andre Herling, Audrey Lanotte and Dainius Prakapavicius, studied stellar variability in the open cluster NGC 6866, a cluster located in the Kepler field of view.  Carefull photometry with the 1.65m telescope, using PSF photometry, helped to derive the C-M diagram, while additionnal spectroscopy with the NOT refined the classification and separated the various class of variables. Kepler data were used in addition, to show how the accuracy of photometry can be improved when using space data not polluted by atmospheric variations...

-Finally, the last group, led by Thomas Augusteijn, and comprising Francisco Javier Alonso Floriano, Valentina Calvi, Kristupas Milasius, and Marek Skarka studied as series of white- and red- dwarf binaries. The sample was selected from the SDSS survey combined with USNO-B proper motions, and 9 sources, among the brightests, and fastest-moving objects were retained for a detailed analysis. Both photometry at the 1.65m and spectroscopy at the NOT with ALFOSC were used for the classification, confirming in most cases the pres-selection. Two candidates, however, did not show significant variations, which is proabaly to be assigned  to a period much longerthan the short observing period available.


As an intense activity of observations, and data-reduction was  necessary to extract  the results, some breaks were also welcome. This included swiming in the nice lakes around the observatory, or short walks in the forest, trying to avoid mosquitos. A more cultural day was planed on a sunday to visit the second-major city of Lithuania, Kaunas, and its two museums, the one dedicated to the famous painter and composer Mikalojius Ciurlionis, and the other to all possible representations of the devil (but no resemblance was found with any participant to the school!). 

Group Photo

Several lectures were added during the second week of the school, to broaden the scientific culture of the participants: a description of the NOT telescope and instrumentation, a short presentation of the Kepler and Gaia space missions, a history of the development of telescopes from Galileo to the E-ELT,  a detailed presentation of the instrumentation plan for the VLT and the E-ELT, and an outline of the ongoing scientific programs at the Lithuanian Institute for Astrophysics.  
The presentation of the scientific results went very smoothly the last day of the school. A general discussion, centered on the perspectives in the field of Astrophysics, concluded this intense and very effective event, leaving the participants with a fresh inpetus for their careers, and many new collaborators and friends.   

More details on this school can be found at the Moletai site: ,
and on the Neon program in general,  at :