Hugo Andrés Durantini Luca
Hugo in front of the Centro de Integración Urbana (Urban Integration Center) of Tolar Grande, Salta province, in a campaign for the TOROS project. Credit: Hugo Andrés Durantini Luca


Centro Educativo Cristo Rey, Córdoba, Córdoba
Famaf, Universidad Nacional de Córdoba, Córdoba, Córdoba

How did you become a NASA citizen scientist?

I have liked science, especially astronomy, since I was a kid. Citizen science has given me the opportunity to work with real data and contribute to the advancement of the field while learning and having fun at the same time. Also, it gives me the chance to know and work alongside people from all around the world — professional and citizen scientists alike — in what has proven to be a wonderful community. Citizen science also puts within your reach that sensation of awe when you discover something that can lead to a real impact, however small, for the project on which you are helping.

What are your favorite citizen science projects to work on?

I'm mostly active in Disk Detective — I’m about to celebrate my sixth year, in 2020, since I started. We search for signals indicating the presence of disks around stars, detecting the radiation they emit at mid-infrared wavelengths using data from NASA’s WISE mission. These disks tell us whether we are looking at young systems where planets are still forming, or an older system, similar to our own solar system, where that formation has already stopped.

Disk Detective ended up becoming my main project due to a few factors: The amazing workgroup on the project itself and our level of familiarity with what we are studying; the wide sample of stellar phenomena we find while we hunt for disks around stars — from IR excess to variability and stellar flares; and the particular way the project has impacted my personal life, opening a path for me to study and work on astronomy projects in my country of Argentina.

What do you do when you’re not doing science with NASA? Tell us about your job and your hobbies!

Currently, I'm part of the TOROS project, which aims to perform an astronomical survey of the southern hemisphere sky in search of optical transients [short-lived phenomena telescopes can detect] as counterparts for [the gravitational wave observatory] LIGO, using a telescope located in Cordon Macon, Tolar Grande, province of Salta, Argentina.

I am also a computer technician. I have fixed computers since I was 14 years old. It’s a job that requires some patience to do properly, and I think it's what has helped me develop the patience to work with large amounts of astronomical data as we do in citizen science. Being very familiar with computers has also proven to be very useful in my science activities in general.

My main hobbies are Japanese culture in general, restoring old computers, and PC gaming, with most games centered around the science fiction theme regardless of the game genre.

What have you discovered or learned as a NASA citizen scientist?

As a NASA citizen scientist, aside from discovering several disk candidates, I think the most interesting discoveries so far with Disk Detective are the "Peter Pan Disks," which are long-lived debris disks around young M stars that make them look like they refuse to grow up. Regarding learning and experiences, it's hard to summarize in a short paragraph, but being a citizen scientist has enabled me to learn a lot about astronomy in ways not accessible by other means.

I have also learned how to work on teams to make science papers. My current outlook on the astronomy world has its roots — without a doubt — in being a NASA citizen scientist.

Spanish science magazine with Carl Sagan on the cover.
Hugo's first contact with Carl Sagan's work.

What first sparked your interest in space and science?

My first inspiration regarding science and space was Carl Sagan, as I remember reading an article about him in "Enciclopedia Popular Magazine" and that planted the seed. Later I came in contact with his "Cosmos" work and his novel "Contact," which further cemented my interest.

What advice would you give to others who might want to volunteer with NASA?

Be patient in learning the intricacies of the projects that most interest you. Be open to learning from others and teaching others to push the projects forward.

Who inspires you?

People like the late Carl Sagan and Stephen Hawking, as well as Neil deGrasse Tyson and Brian Cox, to name a few.

Visit the complete collection of NASA citizen science projects and start contributing today!