Sunset in Hawai’i
Hello from the summit of Mauna Kea, Hawai’i! We’re here to follow up on a host of Galaxy Zoo blue ellipticals, trying to use the Caltech Submillimeter Observatory to catch the signature of Carbon Monoxide – gas which might provides the fuel for star formation.
Sadly, we’re not in Hawai’i – I’m in the office in Oxford (my sunrise is below), Becky is in Bristol and we’re joined by Meg Schwamb from Planet Hunters on her first extragalactic observing run. Conditions look good, if a bit windy, and I’ll try and keep you informed as the night wears on.
EDIT: We have an open dome and the weather is looking good. Here’s a dark webcam image you can squint at to pick out a telescope and sky.
And first observations for calibrations are on Mars! Here’s an excitingly noisy spectrum with a nice broad absorption line in the middle – you’re looking at CO (carbon monoxide) in the atmosphere of Mars. The width can even tell you about the current wind speed on Mars. From Oxford to Hawaii to Mars to back to you at home.
EDIT : Well, that was interesting. It turns out it helps if you know a telescope – none of us have used the CSO before and it’s been quite hard work to get our heads round the right software. Still, we successfully observed our first target – an unprepossessing, rather distant blue elliptical by Sloan standards (see below) and on first glance didn’t quite see anything. It set before we could quite confirm that there was nothing there to see, and we’ve moved on to a second galaxy, stopping off on the way by a cool star in order to calibrate the system.
EDIT : End of a long night. One disadvantage of observing remotely is that we have to be very cautious, so we’re commanded to shut the telescope an hour before sunrise. We got data, certainly, but it’s not one of those nights in which wonderous things are apparent immediately. We have more chances for the rest of the week if the weather cooperates, so watch this space.