Saturday, February 28, 2009

America's Galaxy

Friday, February 6, 2009


It is official: I have confirmed the booking of a plane ticket to Tucson, AZ for my first observing run. This is very exciting. I have focused most of my career on the theoretical, modelling side of astrophysics, while only working with observational data during the summer of 2007 while at the University of Rochester. Even there, though, the data was taken using the Spitzer Space Telescope and sent through a series of pipelines and initial data reduction before being logged and archived on a server at Cornell.

Now, I get to take the data myself. Point the telescope, focus the lens and get my hands "dirty" taking data on the top of a lonely mountain in the Arizona desert. Whereby "dirty" I mean I will probably get orange finger tips from a bag of Cheetos as I sit at the desk and tell the computer what to do. Either way, my hands will be dirty!

This run is kind of short notice and was not actually planned until Wednesday when I got an offer to go and train for a few days before my big run in May. Since the data in May will need to be very accurate, I will need to cut down on human induced errors, aka: stupid me. So arose the prospect for a training weekend. I will still be taking data, obviously, but the need to super high accuracy may not be necessary since I still have 5 nights in May.

The telescope I will be using is the 1.3m McGraw-Hill telescope at the MDM Observatory located on Kitt Peak in Tucson, AZ. Right next door to this scope is the 2.4m telescope which another professor from Dartmouth will be working on. He will be the one training me, but he will spend most of his time on the 2.4m, taking data for another professor at another university who is apparently in Chile on an observing run.

So with only a weeks notice and little time to prepare for the upcoming run, it should be a good trip and an interesting time atop the mountain.