Wednesday, October 31, 2018

A long overdue observing run

Figure 1: Diana and Clay.
Almost eight years after my first on-site observing experience (at the CTIO 1.0m), here I am, wrapping up my second observing run ever. This time, I've been trusted with a much larger telescope (Clay, see Figure 1) and a precious instrument (the Planet Finder Spectrograph - PFS).

Of course, I had to first get trained on PFS (thanks Johanna! thanks Steve!). It's been a learning curve. Here are the things I have done this past week that I had not done before:
- observed on site with a spectrograph;
- filled the instrument Dewar with liquid nitrogen (see Figure 2).
- drove an automatic car that is trying to be manual.

This observing run has certainly posed some challenges, both to the PFS team and to me personally. 

Figure 2: Filling up the PFS Dewar at 6:30am.
On my first night of training, we sent a command to move the iodine cell in the light path in order to complete calibrations and begin observing. However, the iodine cell would not move. Upon inspection, we discovered a glycol leak near the area where the PFS calibration lamps and CCD controller are. We suspect the glycol lubricated the iodine cell motor, disabling it from moving the iodine cell. The mountain crew rushed over and did a fantastic job cleaning up the leak. Following the cleanup, we were able to complete calibrations and start observing, but we did lose about 3 hours. 

I usually use space-based data or observations from robotic telescopes, which is why I do not go observing very often. Adjusting to the night schedule was a personal challenge for me, and it took me a couple of days to adapt. At first, in the morning at the end of observing, each of the last few steps before bedtime seems like an insurmountable challenge: getting the calibrations right, filling the Dewar with liquid nitrogen safely, driving back to the lodge.

In the end it was all worth it for the learning experience, but also for the wildlife (see Figures 3 - 8), scenery, and sense of escape (see Figure 9).

Figure 3: Burro.
As a "bonus", we had good weather and seeing (at least during the week I was there!), and we acquired numerous spectroscopic observations that will be used to measure the masses of newly-discovered exoplanets.
Figure 4: Vulture (thanks George!).

Figure 5: Vizcacha.
Figure 6: Guanaco (thanks George!).

Figure 7: Zorro.

Figure 8: Small owl.

Figure 9: Our galaxy.

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