Thursday, 22 July 2010

Sunrise from Mauna Kea: II

I'm not sure I'll have many more opportunities to be at the summit at sunrise and it's not as if I've taken too many photos of sunrises there in the past. It's possibly the most beautiful and serene time on the summit: it's quiet, there are few tourists and the light is stunning. On the other hand, it's the end of a very long night shift (close to 14 hours on a clear winter's night) and it takes a little time to get things set up properly to take nice photos on the summit. We run a "buddy system" (as do most observatories) so we're always accompanied by someone else in case of problems, and the last thing I want to do is hold them up when all they want to do is return to lower altitudes for some sleep.

So, the photos are taken quickly. Above, the CFHT is closing at sunrise. Like us, the CFHT is planning to switch to remote operations, that is it'll be run remotely without anyone actually at the telescope. I'm hoping to swap some notes as we'll both be starting this new operational mode at roughly the same time.

Down below, in Submillimeter Valley, the CSO is closing while the JCMT continues to observe despite almost daylight conditions. These telescopes can operate during daylight if necessary and it's only money, staff effort and a build up of water in the atmosphere during the day that prevents this. In fact, UKIRT and the IRTF can also observe in daylight although the bright sky does provide the odd problem or two.

In fact, some years ago, I helped commission an extremely complicated mid-infrared instrument, Michelle, by starting the day at 2am with a drive to the summit, observing from roughly 6am to 10am each morning, driving back down, doing office work, returning home and trying to go to bed at 8pm each evening.

The plan worked but unfortunately I was a complete psychological wreck for several weeks!

The IRTF, above, is often open in daylight hours although on this occasion they closed at sunrise. They're often open when we arrive at the summit in the early evening because they're observing a planet in collaboration with NASA spacecraft or work well beyond dawn for the same reason.

Finally, it's time to head down. The JCMT remains open, the CSO is closed and it's impossible to tell if the SMA is still working as they don't have domes to close. The shadow of Mauna Kea is shrinking by the minute as the sun rises and will soon be gone.

I'm hoping for one more chance for sunrise photography at the summit before we switch to remote observing. Although I'll still visit the summit on occasions it won't be anything like the current frequency. It's almost as if a part of my life will disappear!

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