On Dec. 7, radio stations across the United States, Mexico, and Central America will broadcast the 5,000th episode of Universo to its 2.22 million listeners nationally and internationally.
The daily, two-minute Spanish-language radio program from The University of Texas at Austin McDonald Observatory covers topics in skywatching, the science of astronomy, the contributions of Latino scientists, the history of astronomy and the skylore of Mesoamerican cultures.
Universo airs on more than 150 U.S. radio stations daily, plus others in Colombia, El Salvador, Mexico and Venezuela.
"Through these short radio pieces, we're working to make science accessible to Spanish-speakers, a group that's growing in population in the U.S., but is underrepresented in the sciences," said McDonald Observatory Director David Lambert. "We want to help people become interested in science, certainly in terms of career possibilities for young people, but also simply to be informed about the world around them."
"It's really important for us to address the Spanish-speaking population, and to show that astronomy is a diverse science that values the contributions of many people," said Universo writer and producer Damond Benningfield. "As more and more Latinos enter the science and engineering fields, I'm looking forward to presenting their contributions to our growing audience."
Benningfield also produces StarDate, the longest-running nationally broadcast science program on U.S. airwaves, for McDonald Observatory.
McDonald Observatory is seeking underwriters and sponsors for Universo production and distribution. Program costs are funded by the Friends of McDonald Observatory, and also funded in part by grants from NASA and the National Science Foundation (NSF). The program originated with an NSF grant. Other Universo sponsors have included NASA's National Space Grant Consortium, the SBC Foundation, the American Honda Foundation, The Joe and Teresa Lozano Long Foundations, National Instruments, Harcourt General Foundation, the Goodman-Abell Foundation, American Electric Power, the Brown Family Fund and the Communities Foundation of Texas.
Universo is recorded in El Paso at Ixtlan Studio.
"Working with our great production team in El Paso has been a blast," Benningfield said. "They're talented people who are really committed to the Universo concept, and they're dedicated to making the show a success. I'm looking forward to working with them on the next 5,000 shows."
Popular El Paso radio personality Teresa "Fendi" de la Cruz is the voice of Universo. Marco Lara is the program's associate producer and Ignacio "Nacho" Acosta, who has been with the program since its inception, is the audio engineer. Dr. Antonio Candau translates the scripts into Spanish. They are then edited for technical accuracy by Dr. Jorge Lopez, chairman of The University of Texas-El Paso Physics Department, Dr. Carmen Pentoja and Dr. Gustavo Ponce.
In addition to the radio program, Universo includes an extensive Spanish-language Web site. The site contains tips for skywatching, guides to the solar system and beyond, text of the radio programs and an extensive Black Holes Encyclopedia, all in Spanish.