Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Turning your back

It looks as though NASA's Infrared Telescope Facility (IRTF) on Mauna Kea is closed. In fact it isn't, it's just the dome turning its back to me. The open slit is facing 180 degrees away and the telescope is observing something in the orange twilight sky above the usual sea of clouds.

So here's a puzzle. The IRTF spends a lot of time observing planets in our Solar System and there's a good chance it might be doing that. This is around 7:05pm local time on the evening of August 11th - it's looking roughly north-northwest. Anyone hazard a guess as to what the observers were looking at?

Not that it'll help, but as ever you can click on the picture for a larger version.


gigihawaii said...

nope, don't know. What's your answer?

BTW, are all the building structures on Mauna Kea HEATED? Or do you astronomers (and visitors) have to dress warmly?

And if they are heated, how are they heated? Solar panels?

Tom said...

gig - I don't know, I haven't checked yet, I was hoping someone would tell me! I'll try and figure it out later.

The control rooms inside the observatories tend to be heated and anywhere else that people tend to work. The domes themselves are not, and some are in fact actively cooled to try and match night-time temperatures. Heating the inside of the dome is a really bad idea, it'll just create a lot of local turbulence for several hours in the evening and give you dreadful image quality.

We all bring up cold weather gear. We often step outside to check conditions and of course we need to be prepared if we lose power or get trapped at the summit for some reason. We also have to go into the dome if there's a problem we have to fix and it's very cold there as well.

Incidentally, the observatories all have emergency gear in case people are trapped at the summit. It's extremely rare that happens but we have to plan for the possibility.

In our case, heat comes via Helco and electric heaters. We don't have much of an option. Solar panels would be very green but were would you put them and what happens if we have weeks of fog? The telescopes also use an awful lot of power and I suspect solar panels wouldn't be up to it.


gigihawaii said...

Re: electricity. That is odd, because I don't see any utility lines on Mauna Kea. Are they underground or am I simply blind?

Tom said...

They're underground. You can actually see where they are in the summit area as there's an access point to them every few hundred yards.

Keera Ann Fox said...

Wasn't there a solar flare (finally)? I seem to remember someone saying my cell phone service would be interrupted. As usual, I didn't notice.

Tom said...

Yes, large solar flare a couple of weeks ago. The effects on infrastructure are somewhat unpredictable though!