I had the pleasure of visiting Valparaiso (Chile) last week for a conference called “High-Energy Physics in the LHC era“, the sixth of the series. I was invited last August by the organizers to present the status of physics searches and perspectives of the CMS experiment at the CERN LHC, and I took the chance to visit Chile for the first time.

So before I tell you about the physics (very little about it, to not sound too boring), let me tell you what I did apart from attending the conference. I flew in on the last night of 2015, to save money: nobody likes to spend the New Year’s celebrations on a narrow economy seat on a 16-hour flight, apparently! This way the plane ticket cost about $400 less than flying in on the 4th of January. And that gave me four free days to tour Chile.

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Me in the “Valle de la Luna”

Arrived in Santiago on the morning of January 1st I took another flight to Calama, in the Atacama desert. The city exists because of the largest open-air copper mine in the world, a hole of 3 x 1 km and 1 km deep – an impressive sight. I then went to San Pedro de Atacama, where I explored the “Valle de la Luna” – an amazing place (see picture, left – yes that’s me on the left) which I highly recommend you visit if you have a chance. I also spent some time driving through a road that climbs above 5000 m of altitude, and visited the ALMA radiotelescope array base camp. You know ALMA? It’s an impressive endeavour, and it is producing amazing results. I blogged about their imaging of a proto-planetary disk recently, but they did much more and they’re just starting.

td telescopeThe best time for me was however spent during the nights in San Pedro. No, not the kind of night life you are thinking of. For two nights I rented the largest amateur telescope of South America from Alain Maury, an astronomer who set up an observing site next to his house in the Atacama desert. The altitude (2500 m) and humidity (2%) of the place make it one of the best observing sites around (certainly the best I’ve ever observed from). So I got to play with a 70 cm dobsonian telescope (focal length = 3300 mm). This huge instrument has spectacular optics and delivered stunning views of galaxy arms, intricate detail in milky way nebulas (the Tarantula and the Eta Carinae among them), and surprising color in stars and planetary nebulae. My jaw constantly needed a reset every time my eye approached the eyepiece…

After one day in Santiago, mostly spent at the museum for human rights (a recollection of the golpe of 1973 and the dark years of political repression), I headed to Valparaiso, a picturesque city facing the Pacific ocean. There I attended the conference.

My talk was highly acclaimed by the participants – mostly because I managed to make it entertaining, if not so deep on the physics side. I spent most of the 30 minutes of my presentation discussing the results of searches for new physics that CMS has performed with the new 13-TeV data collected in 2015. The diphoton bump generated of course discussions and interest, but I was very careful to dampen the enthusiasm, as I’ve done earlier in a blog posting at my usual site.

Among the other talks, I especially appreciated the one by Alexander Beljaev, who took the time to discuss again why supersymmetry is still a valid idea to explain the “cosmic coincidence” that makes the neutralino the most promising candidate to explain dark matter, and other well-known facts, before delving into more specific topics.

Another talk I enjoyed was the one by Marek Karliner, an old acquaintance of mine. He is an expert on hadron spectroscopy, and notably he was cited for his predictions of molecular states when the tentative pentaquark signal was produced by LHCb last year. Marek showed how not only his predictions for the masses of new hadrons containing heavy quarks were perfectly in line with later measurements, but how his model predicts new states that experiments are very well advised to go hunting for in the near future.

After his talk I teased Marek by telling him that it’s far too easy to predict the mass of new hadrons, and I challenged him to predict what new hadron will be discovered next! He took the challenge and predicted that he believes a molecular state of Bs mesons should be among the easiest to put in evidence in the near future.

I also liked many of the other talks, which were given in a very warm and friendly atmosphere. The conference had of the order of 100 attendees, so it’s a fairly small event if you compare it to big ones like EPS and Lepton-Photon, but I must say I like these events more as they give you the chance of a tighter interaction with the speakers (I asked an average of 0.5 questions per talk).

So that is it – I am now back from Chile and sorting out a huge pile of unattended errands, but I’m still very happy of this opportunity I’ve had to travel in that part of the world for the first time…