New Beginnings at the End of the Observatory
The air of melancholy that loomed in the months prior to the closure of the Arecibo Observatory was punctured by a bright light of happiness and new beginnings: a wedding.
On July 29th, Ms. Pia Amrita Salter Ghosh, the daughter of Dr. Christopher Salter and Dr. Tapasi Ghosh, both former long-time astronomers at the Arecibo Observatory, married Dr. Ivan Vlaho Adrian Norman Slipper in a ceremony overlooking the remnants of what was once the world’s largest telescope.
TThe wedding was attended by over 120 guests; some were relatives and university friends who traveled across the globe to attend, others were childhood friends Pia had made at Colegio Nuestra Señora del Carmen in Hatillo, and the rest were her "Arecibo family," a large and diverse group of people who worked alongside her parents at the AO over the years.
“In Puerto Rico, it is common to grow up close to your extended family. My extended family was scattered across the globe, but I never felt deprived or lonely.” said Pia. "I had a family at the observatory instead."
Pia described how the wedding festivities were reminiscent of the innumerable parties and other events that were hosted by the observatory over the years, with everyone from the maintenance team to the directors celebrating, eating, and dancing together. Bringing the AO family together one last time was one of Pia and Ivan’s goals. “I feel like I was able to give something back to the observatory in its last days, and that was something extremely important to both me and my husband.”
Ticking Clock for a Wedding at AO: Hosting the wedding at the observatory was not always Pia and Ivan’s plan; in fact, they didn’t intend to get married for another year. But, following the collapse of the 305-m telescope in 2020, a picture of a previous wedding at the observatory surfaced on social media and it stuck with Pia.
After learning there would not be any large party or other way for most former AO employees to visit or celebrate the telescope before it closed, Pia joked with her mother about having the wedding at the observatory. While her mother, Tapasi, laughingly agreed it would be a “wild idea," Pia was hit with the realization that she “totally could." It would also be particularly fitting, since the couple proposed to each other at the Green Bank Radio Telescope in West Virginia in November 2021.
After frantically waking her fiancee at 3 o’clock in the morning to see if he would be on board with this new marriage idea, mother and daughter went to work outlining the plan for the wedding. Since it was already April, they would have only three months to organize the event.
Local friends in Puerto Rico sprung into action, recommending vendors, conducting site visits, and allocating table settings.Two of Pia's childhood best friends, Natalia Rivera Martínez and Carlos Santaella, even agreed to officiate the wedding.
Pia and her parents, Chris and Tapasi, are also extremely grateful to the AO staff who put so much work into making the event as beautiful as it was. “It would never have been possible without permission from Observatory Director, Olga Figueroa, and the family received immense help at every turn from their dear friend and colleague of 25 years, Luz "Lucy" Lopez.” They added that no praise can be too high for the staff of the AO Visitor Center where the ceremony took place, and they thank the Center Director, Carlos Padín for his assistance.
“There was an outpouring of love from everyone I know on the island, from the people I had grown up with. I was most surprised by the effort that everyone put in for us to make the wedding happen,” said Pia. “It was incredibly uplifting and humbling to see how many people cared enough to help out or to travel long distances to attend.”
Growing up as an Observatory Kid: Pia shared how her experience as an “observatory kid” impacted her life. Like many of the children who grew up with parents dedicated to their work at AO, she spent countless hours in her youth playing, swimming, and exploring onsite. She saw the observatory as a unique “other world” that she shared only with the other observatory kids.
She grew up both literally and figuratively in the shadow of the telescope. “Some kids have an older sibling who sets high standards for them to live up to - I had to compete for attention with the largest radio telescope in the world.”
The Wedding: With the telescope and her Arecibo family playing such a pivotal role in her childhood, having the telescope also bear witness to her wedding seemed perfect.
“I haven’t felt so happy, so loved, or so ‘in my element’ as I did during my wedding at the observatory,” Pia stated.
Reflecting on the morning of the wedding, Pia recalled how her mother Tapasi was stuck in a proactive “go, go go” mode, to the point that the hair and makeup artist had to jokingly threaten her to sit still. “We have a wedding planner for that!” Pia had to remind her mother.
Barring an amusing moment when the bride and groom realized they were missing their flower garlands, the beautiful and emotional ceremony was a success, with Pia’s father, Chris, walking her down the aisle to the sounds of Glenn Gould's 1981 recording of Bach's “Goldberg Variations”. Even the dramatic summer rains of Puerto Rico held off until the ceremony was finished.
“A lot of it already feels like a lovely dream,” Pia said.
In a reflection of the diversity of the scientists, staff, and visitors who have all contributed to the facility over the years, the ceremony itself was also culturally and linguistically diverse.
“The ceremony was done in three languages,” Pia shared. Carlos Santaella read the English parts of the ceremony while Natalia Rivera Martínez read the Spanish. Finally, the 'saptapadi' or 'seven steps' ceremony where the married couple walk around a ceremonial fire while reciting seven vows was performed by another 'observatory kid', Gayathri Ganesan, whose father Ganesh Rajagopalan was Head of Electronics for many years at AO.
Pia was glad so many could travel to Puerto Rico, both to attend the wedding but also to visit the observatory for the first time before it was closed. “They didn’t just get to see the telescope as a visitor, they got to fully experience the feeling of being part of the AO family.”
Her parents agreed. “We were delighted that Pia and Ivan's special day could take place so beautifully at AO in front of friends and family from near and far.”
And while the wedding was a joyous occasion, it was a little bittersweet for many. A number of the guests with deep ties to AO had not been to the observatory for many years, and all knew it would be their last time visiting it in its current configuration. “Amongst the festivities, there were also quiet conversations and tears,” Pia said. She hopes that the wedding provided some sort of closure - perhaps a happy goodbye - for others as it did for her.
“As I leave to start a new life, so too does the Arecibo Observatory pass from one phase of existence to another. I’m glad I could say goodbye to the place I knew in this way,” Pia affirmed. “I wish there was no need to say goodbye, of course, but, I’m glad I left on a note of true happiness.”