An astrophysicist under water

Also available in: Español (Spanish) Euskara (Basque)

Translation of the article published in Elhuyar Magazine (no. 335, September 2019).

Manta gigante
Giant manta (Mobula birrostris). Revillagigedo.

Itziar Aretxaga is a researcher at the National Institute of Astrophyscis, Optics and Electronics (INAOE) of Mexico. She studies the formation and evolution of galaxies, supernovae, etc., with the Large Millimeter Telescope located at 4,600 meters above sea level. She is close to the sky, and works looking at the sky, but in her spare time she loves to dive under the sea.

Feeling absolute tranquility and peace underwater, she forgets all the problems. “Without weight and in silence, you only listen to your breath, and seeing such a wonderful nature in front of your eyes, it is easy to concentrate and feel part of that beauty,” says Itziar.

She has discovered about a thousand galaxies and has dived almost as many times under water. She has been exploring that underwater universe for seventeen years. She began to work as a volunteer from almost the beginning in an environmental protection association, identifying and counting fish. For this, she bought, precisely, a camera, and little by little she was introduced to the world of underwater photography. However, she does not considered herself a photographer, but a diver.

Near her home are the coral reefs of Veracruz, where she goes many weekends. “These reefs are very interesting because they are located in a circular current within the Gulf of Mexico. Being in a circular current, we have identified many endemic species and measured their distribution.”

Further away, she likes the Revillagigedo Islands very much. “Dolphins and giant mantas approach you so you can touch them. Even sharks come to see what you are. It is wonderful to communicate with such large animals. It is an impressive place.”

She dreams of continuing to see new animals. She acknowledges that she has a long list of species that she has not yet seen underwater, such as whales. “I am thrilled when I see a species that I have not seen before.”


Caribbean reef squids (Sepioteuthis sepioidea) mating. Veracruz.
Californian see lions(Zalophus californianus) playing. Espiritu Santo island.
Silvertip shark (Carcharhinus albimarginatus). Revillagigedo
Blenny meeting (Emblemaripsis sp.) on a brain coral (Diploria labyrinthiformis). Veracruz.
Hawksbille turtle. Veracruz


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