Date: May 24, 2010

Title: A Mexican Name on the Moon


Podcaster: Edgardo Molina

Organization: Pleiades. Research and Astronomical Studies A.C. (web site soon to be presented also in English)

Description: The life and work of Luis Enrique Erro, an early formal mexican astronomer who among others, left the foundations for modern astronomy and astrophysics in Mexico.

Bio: Edgardo Molina. B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from the Anahuac University in Mexico City. Post graduate studies in IT Engineering and a Masters Degree in IT Engineering. Working for IPTEL, an IT firm delivering solutions to enterprises since 1998. Space exploration enthusiast who participated in several Mexican space related activities. Licensed amateur radio operator with call sign XE1XUS. Amateur astronomer since childhood and actual founder and president of the Pleiades. Research and Astronomical Studies A.C. in Mexico City, Mexico. Avid visual observer and astrophotography fan. Public reach through education in exact sciences, engineering and astronomy. Lectures and teaching in several universities since 1993.

Today’s sponsor: This episode of “365 Days of Astronomy” is sponsored by John Sandlin because a little astronomy illuminates the darkest nights.


The life and work of Luis Enrique Erro. A Mexican name on the Moon.

Hello. This is Edgardo Molina. Your host today for this episode of 365 Days of Astronomy Podcast. Today we are presenting the life and work of Luis Enrique Erro, an early formal mexican astronomer who among others, left the foundations for modern astronomy and astrophysics in Mexico.

Luis Enrique Erro was also someone with a taste for writing, journalism and politics. He was born in the State of Mexico in the city of Villa de Chalco in 1897. During his childhood he lived in the city of Morelia in the state of Michoacan, where he showed an interest of observing the heavens by climbing to his rooftop every night. From a very tender age he was able to recognize the constellations and the brightest astronomical objects known to that date.

While he was a teenager he and his family moved to Mexico City where he continued his studies up to the point to simultaneously mayor in the Civil Engineering, Law and Philosophy. He combined his student days teaching techniques for drawing and painting in a technical school. He was also a great enthusiast for several sports. After all a healthy mind in a healthy body.

When he was 21, the government sent him to europe in representation of Mexico, he studied spanish literature, greek and latin while visiting. While living in Paris the physicians detected an anomaly in his hearing and needed a surgery to correct it. He underwent surgery but without the desired results. He remained deaf for the rest of his life. The mexican government in compensation gave him a significant economic help to be exposed to a new surgery. Instead of that, Luis Enrique Erro changed his mind and used the compensation money to buy a refractor telescope, the telescope of his dreams made by Carl Zeiss in Germany. As a comment I must admit I might have done the same in his position.

With that instrument he learned astronomy in the early 30´s, while working as secretary general of the mexican embassy in Washington. There he met Mr. Leon Campbell, Harvard University scientist who was working with variable stars. Through him the met Mr. Harlow Shapley, known to be the first scientist to observe galaxies. Mr. Shapley asked Luis Enrique Erro to start studying variable stars, he discovered twenty of them and worked on several new types of variable stars unknown to the date. His results were published in the Harvard Astronomical Observatory Bulletin.

During the 40’s he was back in Mexico and had an invitation to join the campaign of Manuel Avila Camacho for president, who after winning the elections, offered Erro a public office which he declined, but asked the president to help him found an astrophysics observatory. The first to be built in Mexico, despite the previous existence of the National Astronomical Observatory. The light pollution in Mexico City where it was located, made it unsuitable for doing decent research. Despite not becoming a politician while Avila Camacho was in power, he remained close to him as his science and technology advisor.

When a budget was granted for the construction of the new observatory, Luis Enrique Erro had to choose among several sites to build such an enterprise. He settled for a small rural town called Tonanzintla in the state of Puebla. The sky was dark enough for his purposes and it was relatively accesible from the city of Puebla and Mexico City. Winding unpaved roads led to that remote location. There were a couple of houses and friendly people were located and who helped with the construction duties.

At that time there were no formed astronomers in Mexico. Erro assuming a nationalist attitude took the job of teaching astronomy and astrophysics to students that eagerly wanted to jump into the newly created working scenario. Erro designed courses in galaxy formation, planets and stars, quantum dynamics, stellar system dynamics and astro-photometry. He got several high quality instruments and domes to house them. Most of the equipment came from abroad and from the National Astronomical Observatory who decided to move their instruments to the new promising site.

Erro worked also for the Harvard University Observatory, where he invited scientists to work with him at Tonanzintla. He managed to do several high end studies in spectroscopy of stars and nebula along with the team from Harvard.

Most of his work was published by well known scientific magazines and periodicals. He published his discoveries of giant stars and those with high luminosity, planetary nebulae, supernovas in other galaxies and novas in the Sagittarius region. in the late 50’s Erro left the observatory management to new generations willing to continue his work.

He came back to Mexico City where he finished his days writing books in literature, astronomy, astrophysics and newspaper scientific columns.

Luis Enrique Erro died from heart failure in 1955, his remains were incinerated and were deposited in Tonanzintla observatory. In his honor the National Polytechnic Institute named the Technical Commerce School after him and the first latin american planetarium located in Mexico City, still working today with digital technology.

Finally the International Astronomical Union named a lunar crated after him. This has inspired many new generations in Mexico to pursue astronomical studying after looking through a telescope trying in vane to locate the Erro crater on the eastern limb/far side of the Moon. I must admit that as a child I also couldn’t resist the temptation to look for it…

Long live the mexican name on the Moon, a remembrance of what can be done with wild dreams, preparation, courage and determination.

For the 365 Days of Astronomy, this is Edgardo Molina from Pleiades. Research and Astronomical Studies in Mexico City, Mexico, wishing you all clear skies!

End of podcast:

365 Days of Astronomy
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