Monday, May 10, 2010

Observing run debriefing

My apologies that I didn't get around to writing anything yesterday about my observing run on Friday night. This was partly because I was busy working on my take-home final for Partial Differential Equations and studying for my Electromagnetism final, and partly because staying up all night does some wacky stuff to your head. I knew it was Saturday, because I headed to the library for a previously-scheduled study group, and yet Saturday night I steadfastly maintained to Jonathan that it was Friday, until being informed by my watch otherwise. I have a slight break from busyness right now; as of this writing I have just completed both the take-home final and the final paper for PDE's . My final paper was on the Schrödinger Wave Equation and how it can be solved to give the electron orbitals in a hydrogen atom, and it came out looking beautiful, especially with the graphics I included showing the first ten orbitals (1s-4f, if you're interested). \(\LaTeX\) is such an amazing typesetting program

But back to my observing run Friday night with Dr. Takamiya. We started about 5:30 in the afternoon, heading into the Institute for Astronomy building just above campus to remotely control the UH 2.2 meter telescope atop Mauna Kea (no, we didn't actually go up the mountain this time). Our telescope operator (TO) got there about 6, and we proceeded to start the telescope computers and the instrument we were using (a camera called SNIFS) and put them through a battery of pre-observing tests, calibrations, and routines. The sun didn't set till almost 7, and twilight didn't end for another half-hour after that, so we were performing tests and getting things set up for almost an hour and a half.

Thankfully, we had perfect weather, no clouds or other obstacles. We had a rather humorous incident where the Gemini observatory called us to tell us that they were planning to shine their adaptive-optics laser into the area we were observing, and were we going to be observing there much longer? We only had another 20 minutes there anyway, and they very politely waited, even calling again to make sure we had left. We could see their laser on the all-sky camera mounted at the summit to watch for clouds, which was pretty nifty

As the night progessed, Dr. Takamiya showed me how to issue orders to the telescope, and I got to tell it to take several exposures. We were observing relatively nearby galaxies, taking pictures first of an ionized hydrogen region, followed by a picture of a blank patch of sky nearby which we'll subtract from the image later on (technically we were capturing the spectra of the regions, in order to measure the relative abundance of different elements, so no visual pictures. Sorry)

I also learned a new word Friday night (or maybe early Saturday morning, it gets hard to tell): telluric, which means "earthly", as in "starlight that comes to us is affected by clouds and other telluric factors". I already knew that 'tellus' is the Latin word for earth, (which is what the element tellurium is named for), so I was able to guess in context what telluric meant, I just never knew it existed in English before. Now I just need to find a conversation in which to use it..

The night went pretty uneventfully, except for a portion when we weren't able to get a guide star to work for about 10 minutes. The hardest part was staying awake during the 20-minute exposures when there wasn't much to do but watch the guide star and make sure the focus didn't wander (seems like the hardest time is from 2 to 3 in the morning, after that I woke up a bit). We started shutting down about 4:30, since twilight came around 5, which is when we finally left. Luckily, I got home and made it into bed before the sun rose at 5:30, or I probably wouldn't have gotten much sleep. As it was I got several hours of very good sleep in (I think it's funny that I was the person up the latest in our house, and I still got up before anyone else, around 10:00).

Well, with my PDE stuff done, I don't really have anything to do tonight, so it's time for a little relaxation, before hitting the books next week. My PDE final is tomorrow, but it's simply turning in things and watching a few classmates' presentations, nothing to worry about. After that I have two finals on Wednesday, and one on Thursday, so it's studying Monday and Tuesday.

Oh, I almost forgot to say, Happy Mother's Day, mom! And thank you very much for the chocolate in your latest package; I've been slowly chipping away at it. Aloha wau iā 'oe! (I love you!)

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