Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Allowed home for the weekend

Tonight was the big night! After weeks of intensive work on an instrument upgrade which has recently been bedevilled by poor weather on commissioning nights, visiting astronomers were let loose at the summit to try and get some real science from it. This is not the first time I've been involved in instrument commissioning and the first real science night is always a bit of a nerve-wracking time, especially at start-up during sunset.

Since my boss was up as well, I said to everyone "I'm just popping outside for a minute, if there's a problem you'll find me there" and promptly took off my big "I'm an astronomer" coat and mingled with the unwary tourists. "They'll never find me now!".

In the hope that I wouldn't have to be back at the summit for the next few nights I took my last set of summit sunset photos for a couple of weeks although the sky tonight wasn't the best for these type of photos - it was relatively clear overhead and it's the clouds that make the colours so wonderful, but there were enough around - enough so that I could blame the weather for the instrument's poor performance?

I tried to get a silhouette of UKIRT in front of the setting sun, but it didn't quite work out as I wanted, the UH 88-inch telescope was in the way and I couldn't go any further to my right, so this was my best effort (I hope those three gents aren't our visiting astronomers out looking for me).

The highest volcano on the island of Maui was visible though, Haleakala, and between it and myself and my new tourist friends, the NASA IRTF. I don't think the red stuff in the foreground snow is blood, at least I hope it isn't. I suspect it's paint from a long-melted snowman, or it's a crime scene. There were no police or witnesses to be seen though, so I quickly made my escape.

Turning the other way, to the east, the shadow of Mauna Kea was magnificent. The shot is a little underexposed, but that's deliberate (ahem). The reason for the underexposure is it brought out the strange atmospheric/optical effect above the mountain's shadow. I used to know what caused that effect, but my oxygen-depleted brain has forgotten. It looked fantastic though.

So how did the instrument perform? Well, I think our visiting astronomers are quite happy. There are no gripes or moans in the online night log, so this is a good thing. There's still half a night to go though at the time of writing. Who knows what'll happen? Still, the boss is up there right now and hasn't called me, and even allowed me to go home this evening! Even more, he gave me the next two days off work, so now I have a 4-day weekend!

He's either fed up with the sight of me or perhaps the commissioning team didn't do such a bad a job after all...


Zuzana said...

These pictures are amazing! You always take great pictures, but I have to say these are my favourite.
I am happy your instrument worked; enjoy your 4 days weekend.;))

Diane said...

Is it bad that my mind went straight to the gutter when I read that your instrument worked? ;)

And PS... do I really put the fear of God into you? My bark's worse than my bite, I promise. Well... most of the time... :)

Andrew Cooper said...

Congratulations! I hope. Enjoy a few days.

Keera Ann Fox said...

Another bunch of stunning photographs!

Beep said...

LOL, the pictures are glorious but it's the witty prose that made me laugh :) What a great post :) Sure hope you enjoy your long weekend; looks like you've really earned it!

Tom said...

Protege - I'm blushing! I've only had this camera for a month and am still learning how to use it, but I work with a couple of very talented photographers and I think some of their stuff is starting to rub off on me.

Diane - no gutter talk here, OK? ;) I might just overlook this incident because your writing is so funny - but you're on notice, alright? ;)

Andrew - Thanks! There's a new team at the summit and they're using the upgraded instrument despite having other choices - no disasters so far touch wood!

Keera - it's definitely not talent, just a place that's hard to take poor pictures. Still, I'll take every compliment I can get!

Beep - now I don't know what to do, take accidentally good photos or write something entertaining! I don't have the ability to do both! This was pure accident but I really do appreciate the compliment!

Hilary said...

These are just gorgeous. What a wonderful place to be. I trust you enjoyed your long weekend. I'm in blog catch up mode.