Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Wake up and smell the vog.

I realized today that I hadn't written for a while, mostly due to lots of homework. But since doing homework for hours at a time is driving me crazy, I'm going to take a little time and catch up on what I've been doing.

Saturday we had some of the worst vog I've seen yet here in Hilo. Vog, in case you don't know, is volcanic fog. It's basically clouds of sulfur dioxide that react to form sulfuric acid upon contact with water. Thankfully, it doesn't bother me much, but a lot of people get sniffles, coughs, sore throats, and headaches from it.  It was so thick on Saturday that you could see it as a thick haze if you looked down the road. I knew it was bad when I could see the sunlight being scattered by it as it came down through breaks in the trees.

Interestingly enough, however, Sunday was very clear in Hilo. I went up to the Visitor Station on Mauna Kea last night, and as we climbed the Saddle between Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa we encountered increasingly heavy vog. Upon reaching the visitor center at 9,200 feet, we could look out over the Saddle and towards Hilo and see a huge bank of vog hanging in the air. But thankfully it was nice and clear up there last night.

While eating supper at Hale Pohaku, we noticed some Erckel's Francolins hanging around. Being a kind-hearted and generous soul, or maybe just a little crazy, I started tossing food off the balcony where we were eating for them. One little guy in particular (I'm pretty sure it was a male, because francolins are unusual in that the males have two spurs on each leg) hung around for three quarters of an hour, devouring everything I threw at him: hard-boiled egg, steamed broccoli, croûtons, French fries, lettuce, blue cheese (after I tried some for the first time and discovered I could not stand the taste), corn, even a little turkey with gravy. I think he may even have eaten the candied cherry I tossed him from my cheesecake. I wonder how many weeks of doing that it will take for me to have them eating out of my hand? I managed to snap a picture of him, and here it is:


It was a very relaxing and happy time – I felt just like I was back home feeding chickens off the porch.

After supper, we helped get the telescopes all set up for the evening, and I resumed learning how to operate the imaging system belonging to the Visitors center. Have I mentioned that it's $30,000 worth of equipment, all free for volunteers to use? The guy who's teaching me, Nathan, is an absolute master of astrophotography. He's been doing it for five years, and regularly makes images that would knock your socks off with their beauty. Last night we were focused on getting image data, but next Sunday, if I can make it up, he's going to teach me how the process and 'reduce' the data to get a passable picture. So stay tuned – you might get to see some pretty neat stuff in the near future!

Unfortunately, I need to get back to work,  and don't know when I will be able to write next because I just got my first homework assignment from Dr. Crowe in Electromagnetism, and if it's anything like Classical Mechanics with him last semester, it's going to eat a LOT of my time. So, a hui hou! (until next time!)

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