Zooniverse at Mauna Kea, Day 3: This line is not hidden in the RMS!

Caltech Submillimeter Observatory

It occurred to me I haven’t talked much about the telescope itself. There haven’t been any pictures of it yet either. We’re at the Caltech Submillimeter Observatory which is basically a giant (10m) dish inside a sweet looking disco ball on top of a dormant volcano. It observes at wavelengths somewhere in between infrared and microwave.

CSO dish with astronomers in front

The Dish (Astronomers for Scale)

We spend all of our time at the telescope in the control room with everyone hunched over a computer. I’ve learned a couple of the incantations they use to control the telescope. The first command ‘chop’ is what actually makes it record an observation. I wondered why it wasn’t called ‘listen’ or ‘observe’, but it turns out that ‘chop’ pretty accurately describes the motion of the telescope while it records.

The galaxies we’re observing are very distant and faint, and blend in to the background radiation in our atmosphere. To make up for this, the telescope will take a measurement of the source and then another slightly off the source. The controlling computer uses the second measurement to subtract the background noise from its measurement of the source galaxy.

The other command causes the telescope to move. It’s called ‘slew’. When I asked where that name came from, I was given a shrug by the so-called ‘experts’ in the room. So I turned to Google, and found the dictionary definition is to ‘turn or slide violently or uncontrollably in a particular direction’, which sounds like an accurate description of how the telescope’s movement feels from the control room. It’s also originally a nautical term which also feels appropriate.

The Astronomers

Observing is serious business. Watching people observe is not!

A few notes from the second half of last evening and this:

  • We had a small earthquake! It was exciting. It was shocking. It was only a 3.3! This is the second earthquake Chris, Sandor, and I have experienced and was Becky’s first. Pretty cool.
  • Apparently the observations tonight have provided some confusing results. I tried to get Chris to explain what was odd about them. Mostly due to altitude (partly due to working on this), all I could grasp was that they wanted to compare their observations to a nice looking graph with a clear regression line, and the galaxies they are observing are way off in a corner instead of along the line.*
  • Becky has a major problem with static electricity.
  • Here are some of the songs we’ve been listening to tonight (presented without judgment).
  • You can find more pictures of all the other telescopes at the top of Mauna Kea (post about all of them upcoming!) and other photos of the trip here.

* They misinterpreted the data and everything fits now!

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