Wednesday, August 5, 2015


In all of my previous posts, I've been observing. (Although in my last post I was observing at Gemini North, not Las Campanas Observatory.) On this run at LCO, I am doing a lot of not-observing. I arrived on Monday to a partly cloudy sky, and got to watch my office mate Serge Dieterich get a few hours of observations on the Baade telescope with FIRE. I also got to chat with the FIRE instrument PI, Rob Simcoe, which was pretty cool; he was making some upgrades to the computers system running FIRE to try to make the read-out time faster. But unfortunately, the decent weather did not last, and Serge lost much of the second half of the night. Conditions have not improved.

Last night was my first of two nights on the MIKE spectrograph, and instrument I've written about before. I'm here with Alex Ji, a graduate student at MIT working with another Las Campanas Belle, Anna Frebel. (Alex is on Twitter, @alexanderpji, you should follow him!) The plan was to split four MIKE nights, with my targets getting priority the first two nights, and Alex and Anna's targets getting priority the second two nights. This is a great partnership, because (in theory) it spreads out the weather risk a bit, and I got a chance to give Alex some lessons on using MIKE before he is by himself for the last two nights (when I'm going home). Alex is super enthusiastic, and we came up on Tuesday afternoon and did most of the calibration images needed for both our data reductions for all four nights.

Alex putting the diffuser in so we can take milky flat calibration frames. Photo credit: Cindy Hunt Benson.
 We arrived after dinner on Tuesday ready to collect photons. The weather had other plans, though.

LCO on Tuesday afternoon. Looks great!
Alex, before we walked up to the Magellans on Tuesday evening. Does not look great.

Above is an all-sky camera time lapse of last night. You can see a few sucker holes at the beginning of the night, and even the Milky Way through the clouds. But then it just gets worse...and worse...and worse. You can't even see the nearly-full moon rise near the middle of the night. Boo.

Tonight is even less promising. Luckily it isn't raining or snowing, but the clouds are certainly thicker and the wind is certainly higher. Looking at the satellite imagery,

makes it seem like we might see some clear-ish sky by the end of the night, but we'll have to wait and see. The LCO staff are not so optimistic -- they covered the instruments inside the dome, as well as several other electronics, with plastic covers, in preparation for precipitation.

Non-observing is part of being an observer, particularly a "classical" (not queue; you have to come do the observations in person yourself) and "ground-based" observer. Luckily for me, LCO is a lovely place to hang out and work and chat with interesting people.
Astronomers eating! Clockwise from back left: Alex Ji, Serge Dieterich, me, Andrew Newman,
Gwen Rudie, Cindy Hunt Benson. Photo Credit: Francesco Di Mille , with Serge's phone.
We're extra lucky to have Dr. Cindy Hunt Benson visiting LCO this week. She is the social media coordinator/promoter for Carnegie Astronomy, and has been doing an AMAZING job on Twitter and Instagram and Facebook, showing off all the interesting research and discoveries related to Carnegie Astronomy. Really, you need to go look at those social media accounts to get the best picture of Carnegie Astronomy possible. You should at least check out Cindy's Pluto Plate video -- so cool! Look out for a post from Cindy on this blog soon. She had the idea to take a time lapse video of us working last night:

which is a riff of a video Anna Frebel made a few years ago. Unlike Anna, we were not-observing, but we still got a lot of work done, and had fun! Can you spot the Quadritos?

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