Zooniverse at Mauna Kea Day 2: Take that Meteorologists!


(In which dismayed by forecasts of 100mph winds we go to beach and then end up observing anyway)

A brief update on last night, we were actually able to open the telescope in the wee hours of Thursday morning. Sandor and Becky got as far as pointing the telescope and starting to calibrate it when the wind picked back up and forced us to close.

On the bright-side we enjoyed a beautiful sunrise from the top the mountain.

We awoke late in the afternoon, to emails warning us that “Summit Conditions are Extremely Dangerous” and weather predictions of 100mph winds on the top of the mountain. Thinking it would be a lost night, Becky, Sandor, and I took off for Kona, hoping to checkout the ocean and maybe catch the sunset. Chris stayed behind to answer emails.

Sunset at Kona

Sooo pretty (Photo by Becky)

It was awesome. Definitely a good decision.

Back at Mauna Kea, the predicted extreme winds never materialized, and Chris and Meg Schwamb were able to open the CSO’s doors for a bit of remote observing, while the beach bums rushed back to Hale Pohaku to join. After a brief wind scare, we made the trip up the mountain to observe on site.

The team at their stations.

Hard at work! (Photo by Ed)

It turns that radio astronomy is pretty similar to computer programming (my normal Zooniverse occupation), in that it mostly seems to involve typing obscure commands into a shell prompt and then waiting for things to happen. Unlike programming, it also involves stomach churning shifts, as the entire building moves to track the source.

During the waiting periods, I’ve tried to learn more about how the telescope works after being mesmerized by Simon’s, the telescope’s manager, technospeak. One part of the telescope he seemed most eager to show us was the heterodyne receiver. After asking the real astronomers what is was, I was very disappointed to learn that it wasn’t a Terminator weapon. Instead, it’s part of the telescope’s processing pipeline that transforms the signal from the telescope to a frequency where detectors are cheap(er). Anyway it’s certainly a cool looking piece of equipment.

The Heterodyne Receiver

It came form the Future to save the Present (Photo by Sandor)

That’s about it for me tonight. We’ll just be up here listening to some sick jams and looking at distant galaxies. Remember you can find a bunch of pictures of trip (not many of people observing yet though) here.

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