Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Big domes

What an interesting day. I'm supporting the current observing run at the telescope and partly as a consequence didn't get to bed until midnight and then woke up at 4-am completely wide-awake. Well, I had an early start planned anyway, just not quite that early.

Today we worked on infrared array electronics at the summit trying to narrow down a fault we've been seeing for a while and I think we got somewhere, or at least have a better idea where the fault is occurring and can now plan some further tests and hopefully fix it very soon. In the middle of all this we had an earthquake. I thought at first I was dozing off as it was just after lunch, but the building really did shake. Fortunately nothing was damaged, but the guys up on a crane at the top of the dome certainly experienced a nervous few seconds - those Genie cranes certainly amplify any ground movement!

It was also my first photo assignment. Well, not a real one, but one of the scientists I was up with today needed some photos taken of him at the summit for an article in his local town's newspaper - a very small town way up there somewhere in the Italian Alps. I was happy to oblige as he's such a great guy, but learned that I'm a bit better at photographing landscapes rather than people, but hopefully there are one or two decent photos the paper can use.

Now, tonight, we've experienced faults with the telescope/instrument that I don't understand, but you know I'm worrying because the work we did today may have caused them, except I can't see the connection right now. Since I'm supporting the run and I'm the instrument scientist, I have to try and figure it out. This has been a long day - nearly 18 hours now and it may go on a little longer...

In a short break today, however, I took a few photos of the observatories at the summit. I didn't really want to do this: the sun was high, the sky was bright, all the clouds were way below us and the snow was making exposure times difficult to sort out, but I took my camera up there so goddamn I was going to use it.

Keck II, with a really funky shadow from the walkways on the dome. Now those are places I would not want to be during an earthquake.

Keck I with the dormant volcano Haleakalā on the island of Maui in the distance. Like Mauna Kea, Haleakalā has astronomical observatories at the summit, but being almost 4,000-feet lower at 10,000-feet doesn't offer quite the same astronomical image quality as Mauna Kea. It's a great place to watch sunsets and sunrises though and is much more accessible to the general public as there's a decent paved road all the way to the summit.

The Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope (CFHT). This is the place that did the Hawaiian Starlight movie. Get it if you can!

Finally, the Gemini North Observatory. I worked there for a while although it was in a kind of shared mode (I helped commission an instrument there). The dome dominates the summit ridge and there's one amazing telescope inside!

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