Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Interacting Dwarf Galaxies with Magellan Baade and the MMTF

Remote observing certainly has its perks. I don't have to miss meetings/classes or sit for hours on a plane. I can put my kid to bed, do my observing, and then be there when she wakes up in the morning. I also don't have to dip into my precious travel funds.

But sitting on a mountaintop in a remote corner of the world collecting photons surrounded by a vast and peaceful darkness is what made me fall in love with astronomy. I also always enjoy gathering with other astronomers and engineers over dinner and hearing about all the different ways they are trying to understand the universe.

So I was super excited to have the opportunity to take my first trip to LCO last week. My trip was funded by the L'Oreal USA For Women in Science grant I was awarded last year. My fellow observers were UVa graduate student Sandy Liss and former UVa grad but current U de Concepcion postdoctoral fellow George Privon. Upon arrival, Sandy and I tripled the number of women present.
Magellan Baade open and ready to observe our interacting dwarf galaxies.

We had two gorgeous nights to take some really stunning narrowband (Halpha) imaging of interacting dwarf galaxies with the Maryland Magellan Tunable Filter on the Baade. We quickly learned that while tunable filters are such a fantastic idea, they are not the easiest instruments to calibrate. Lucky for us, MMTF PIs and experts Sylvain Veilleux (U Maryland) and Mike McDonald (MIT) were hugely supportive and generous with their time. Mike especially went above and beyond to help us out. Thanks, Mike!

It was one of those runs where the nights were long (10 hours of pure dark plus another 3 of twilight) and calibrations took most of the afternoon so we really only had about 4 hour chunks of time in which to find sleep, a shower, and a hot meal. The nights were made even longer by the impending ALMA proposal deadline to which George and I were both shackled.

The support and help from all the people there made it all manageable, and I have to give a special shout out to the cooks who made special, protein-packed vegetarian meals just for me. Thank you!

My only complaint was the lack of working internet for most of our visit. At the time, while learning a new instrument and finishing ALMA proposals in between exposures, the lack of googling-capabilities or access to my beloved ADS drove me mad. Thankfully, now that I have some perspective, I can laugh at myself for traveling over 30 hours via 2 cars, 1 tram, 3 planes, and 1 pick-up truck to arrive at a remote mountaintop in the Chilean desert, only to be outraged over the lack of speedy wifi.
The only photo of all 3 of us observers. Photo courtesy of G. Privon (seen at left).

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