Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Who left the lights on?

We've all done it, well, I mean those of us that work nights on Mauna Kea's summit. All the systems are run up before sunset and in our case we do some pretty thorough checks to make sure things are working properly, but those tests can indicate something's wrong. If it's a software problem we can do several things in an attempt to find a solution without heading into the dome. Sometimes, though, a piece of hardware fails and we spend the evening wrapped up in winter clothes diagnosing the fault in the cold and exposed dome.

Most of the time we try and diagnose faults in the dome by flashlight but sometimes we have to close the dome and turn the lights on because there's a serious problem. On the odd occasion, and I can only remember this happening once while I was at the summit, we forget to close the dome and turn on the lights. This will almost certainly result in a polite but questioning phone call from one of the other observatories asking us why we're lighting up Mauna Kea's sky!

I've been on the end of one of those calls, and I've also made the call myself! Working at 14,000 feet has some strange effects on the body and brain and occasionally we do stupid things such as accidentally light up the whole summit! It's embarrassing when we do this but usually someone at another observatory spots it very quickly and we get a gentle reminder about summit etiquette!

In this case, it looks as though the staff at Gemini were working in the dome after sunset, there's usually no other reason to leave the lights on with the dome wide open. The lights went out shortly afterwards and before it became dark, so hopefully whatever issue they had was fixed and didn't require a gentle reminder from anyone.

What a shame, I'm quite good at gentle reminders!

1 comment:

Keera Ann Fox said...

Whereas if I'm working late, co-workers tend to turn off the lights and leave me in the dark. They need gentle reminders of a different kind. :-)