Friday, July 3, 2015

Good night and Goodbye (with STAMINA!)

Being an astronomer is part of my identity. At a conference I recently attended, I learned how this identity is not always automatically generated with schooling or experiences, and actually needs to be cultivated and reinforced in students, particularly those who are not white cis hetero males in STEM. (Aside: examples of cool programs to check out that are doing this are here and here and here.) Similarly, another part of my identity is being a runner, which also needs to be cultivated and reinforced, and practiced *a lot*. Part of this practice in both astronomy and running is resilience, or stamina. Anyone who has completed a PhD will tell you it takes stamina to get through a graduate program, as I'm sure anyone who has completed a marathon will also tell you. (I'll report back after I run my first marathon in October!)

Similarly, it takes stamina to get through a long observing run. As I went to bed last, this morning, I started to feel a twinge of missing things from home, and a physical tiredness not unlike the 3/4 point during a long run, when I'm not sure I have it in me to finish. But when I awoke seven-ish hours later, and looked out my window to see the brilliant blue sky, cloud free, and stepped outside to feel no wind, I felt energized. I felt like I do during the last mile of a long run, usually in a dehydrated, carb- and electrolyte-starved state, slightly delirious -- I could do this forever! This feels so good! I feel alive! That's how I felt going into our last night observing with PFS on Clay (Magellan II).

And so far, I haven't been disappointed! The conditions have been quiet stable and the seeing good. Not as great as it was the last two nights, when I was on DuPont, but still \leq 0.60'', which is especially good for winter nights.

Seeing measurements on our last night (x-axis is UT).
Notice how the red line is almost always below the blue line?
I even saw the "fw" value get down to 0.39''! Paul did not believe me, although Ian Czekal (who starts tomorrow night and was visiting us tonight) also saw 0.39''; Paul said we were both hallucinating. Well, with the help of LCO staff and weather-site guro Gabriel Prieto, I have the data to prove my right-ness:

This is a copy of a few lines from the input into the plot above:
{"tm":"2015-07-03 00:58:01","el":"66.43","fw":"0.42"},{"tm":"2015-07-03 00:59:02","el":"66.24","fw":"0.41"},{"tm":"2015-07-03 01:02:02","el":"55.89","fw":"0.39"},{"tm":"2015-07-03 01:03:02","el":"55.87","fw":"0.42"},{"tm":"2015-07-03 01:04:01","el":"55.84","fw":"0.42"},{"tm":"2015-07-03 01:05:02","el":"55.82","fw":"0.41"},

"tm" is time, "el" is elevation, and "fw" is the seeing value. See, I was not on drugs, Paul!

At the end of this night, Paul jumps on a bus to get to the airport, leaving me by default as the PFS team member to supervise the instrument de-installation. Jeff of course has a nice manual with detailed instructions, and I will have multiple LCO staff members there to do most of the heavy lifting and moving of the instrument. But I'm still nervous. I am the responsible party. I must ensure the safety of a precious instrument. And I must do this after 12 hours of observing. It's just like a long run -- I have to push through hard to the very end. 

I'm ready!

Another aside: If you also like running and astronomy, check out my friend Michelle, The Running Astronomer.

POST DE-INSTALLATION UPDATE: Well that was terrifying. I felt like I was jumping off a cliff into darkness and had to trust that my parachute would open and I wouldn't die. Except my parachute was me. My mind was swirling the whole time with thoughts questioning my ability, everything I said, every move I made. I felt even worse because I don't speak Spanish, making me even less qualified to be giving directions or supervising. Immediately afterwards I had major negative thoughts.

But...I did it. The instrument was successfully de-installed, and is now resting comfortably in the Magellan auxiliary building, where it began. Nothing broke, nothing went wrong, I did not have to wake Jeff up in the middle of the night (California time) with a panicked phone call. My job is done. And you know what? I think I could do it again, and not be so afraid. 

Aaaaand bed time. Ciao, I'll be back in August!


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