Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Twenty years ago, almost to the day

Just another picture of the NASA IRTF I'm afraid (taken yesterday), but wait, almost 20 years ago to the day a person who is currently up at UKIRT taking data was at the IRTF with an instrument called Celeste. That was 11th July 1991, but tonight, July 12 2011, Celeste is at UKIRT. Don't worry, it has been upgraded a little bit since then!

11th July 1991 is an important date in astronomy, especially for the telescopes that existed back then on Mauna Kea - it was the first total eclipse of the sun observed by major astronomical observatories. NASA scientist Don Jennings, who I'm sure is fretting and stressing getting Celeste to work on UKIRT, is, as I write this, working frenetically inside our dome. Actually, I'm sure that isn't the case, he's one of the most laid back people I've met and hasn't aged a day since this Nova episode of the 1991 eclipse was made in which he's a co-star.

It's a look back in time for me - 1991 was when I first visited UKIRT as a postgraduate student although it was a few months before the eclipse. Now I'm in charge of the place. How things change in such a short time.

For anyone interested, Don first appears at around the 07:50 minute mark in the video and then again at approx. 20:40 and 29:30. Then it gets exiting around the 33:40 minute mark and continues from there on switching between the various Mauna Kea eclipse observing teams. At around 46 minutes they do what I would have done had I been up there although of course I'd have done it in a stately English manner with a cup of tea in my hand and a comment to everyone along the lines of "jolly well done!".

Although it's very dated now, the video does give a reasonable impression of life at a Mauna Kea observatory, especially when there's a new project to be done which is exactly what I've been doing the last couple of weeks. I'm completely knackered because of it, but it's been tremendous fun and tonight we're starting to get the science data we've been preparing for the last couple of weeks!

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