Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Remote Observing

Perhaps it isn't quite fair to have my inaugural  blog post be written in Washington, DC, but on February 26-28, I was remote observing. That means I'm operating the camera on the duPont telescope remotely from my office. Via the magic of screen sharing, it looks just like it would if I were in Chile.

Remote observing is something that raises passionate feelings in astronomer's hearts, both pro and con. On the pro side, I didn't lose three days of travel time to/from Chile for a three night run, I didn't have the cost of travel in money and aggravation, and I'll get to see my husband and children for dinners. On the con side, I feel more detached from the observing since I don't get to check the sky myself (I have an electronic camera to check: see, it was clear!)

I don't get to chat with the staff and learn what's new at the Observatory, I won't get any yummy LCO empanadas, my house isn't dark and quiet for sleeping during the day, and I'm in trouble if the internet connection goes down. I admit that only the last of those is actually a serious con (since I can head to Panas in Bethesda for an empanada after I finish on Sunday).  I'm observing on a relatively small telescope, so I and the Observatory are willing to take the risk on the internet getting cut. Time on the Magellan telescopes is too precious to risk that way, so I'll be there in person in May.

I do think that remote observing is something that works better once one has a lot of in-person observing experience. I probably spent 30 nights using the same instrument while sitting in the dome. I learned how to troubleshoot, talked to the staff a lot, and found my observing rhythm without fighting an intercontinental internet lag. Now that observing is routine, it's easier to be remote.

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