Tuesday, December 19, 2017

First Time Observing at Magellan

Baade and Clay at sunset

I'm Decker French, a new postdoc at Carnegie Observatories. I was recently observing at Magellan over four nights. This was my first time at Las Campanas and using IMACS and MagE, two instruments on Baade (the telescope on the left above!) which have the ability to get optical wavelength spectroscopy. 

Observing with the Magellan telescopes is traditional or "classical" observing in that the observer still physically goes to the telescope. The upside of this, is that the observer gets to go on a trip to a beautiful and remote mountaintop halfway around the world. The site is gorgeous,

The view of the mountains

and the sunsets are amazing, though you always hope for a boring cloud-less sunset.


The Las Campanas staff also take exceptionally good care of the observers. Observing is stressful, and having a steady supply of good food and comfy accommodations helps.

View from the telescopes of the lodging area and cafeteria

A downside of this mode of observing, is that telescope time is scheduled months in advance. I was observing galaxies, whose starlight properties don't change on month to month timescales, but I also work on tidal disruption events, which vary more rapidly. For people who study supernovae, tidal disruption events, and other "transient" objects, fitting into a classical observing schedule can be difficult.

The Baade control room

For this upcoming year, I've joined a collaboration working on upgrading the Swope telescope (which you may have heard about earlier this year!) for more efficient observations of time varying sources, among other uses.

The Swope, DuPont, and OGLE telescopes down the ridge from Magellan

I hope to be back at Las Campanas soon, but in the meantime, I was fortunate that the weather cooperated, and I have a lot of data to reduce!

Me, waiting for the sun to set in front of the Magellan telescopes

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