The continuing adventures of the Pea hunting trip to Chile…
An hour’s flight from Santiago to La Serena, followed by a 2 hour drive, and we arrived at La Silla in time for a tasty lunch (notable lack of peas, though). We then had a meeting with our support astronomer to check our plans for the upcoming observing run and make sure we had filled in all the necessary forms. He also kindly gave us a tour of the three biggest telescopes, including the NTT which we will be using. I’ve been here a couple of times before, but always using the NTT, so it was nice to see the other main telescopes, and get some great views from their dome catwalks.
The landscape around La Silla is red, arid and lumpy. Dry red soil strewn with small rocks, covering many hills of different sizes which appear to be piled on top of one another to form larger peaks. Although this is the edge of a desert, the landscape is dotted by small bushes, though many look more like collections of twigs than living plants.
La Silla observatory was set up in the early Sixties. Like other sites from the same era, such as La Palma, Kitt Peak and Siding Spring, it sports a collection of telescope enclosures of various shapes and sizes. Although the traditional dome is most common, it seems the discerning enclosure has an element of squareness, the degree of which varies with construction date like a fashion.
The telescopes here have apertures varying from half a metre to 3.6 metres. Although the atmospheric conditions at La Silla are very good, they weren’t considered exceptional enough to site the latest generation of 8 metre telescopes here. Instead ESO chose to develop a new observatory at Paranal. When you’re pushing technological and scientific limits, and spending the amount of money that requires, you need to be very careful choosing your site to maximise the quantity and quality of observations that are possible. As science has advanced and typical astronomical observations have become more challenging, the numerous small telescopes around the world are being used less and less. In fact, most of the domes on La Silla are either empty or contain telescopes that are no longer in routine service.
Visiting astronomers usually arrive on the mountain at least one night before their observations begin, to prepare final details and adjust to nocturnal working. We actually have two full days and nights here before we start using the telescope. That will give us plenty of time to review and refine our initial list of targets, although we will certainly still need to adapt our plans once we start taking data. We’ve now got our list of high priority targets organised, and tomorrow we’ll decide upon other interesting objects that it would be useful to observe, if everything else is going well.
Greetings from the ESO Guest House, in Santiago de Chile! As I described in a blog post) a while ago, I am here on a mission to hunt for more distant counterparts to the ‘Peas’) which were first identified by Galaxy Zoo participants.
This is the first Galaxy Zoo initiated observing project to use an ESO telescope, so I thought I would take the opportunity to give you a bit more of an insight in to an ESO observing trip. ESO is the European Southern Observatory, which operates observatories in Chile in order to provide European astronomers with access to the Southern sky. These are among the most technologically advanced and scientifically productive observatories in the world. ESO’s premier facility is the, imaginatively named, Very Large Telescope (VLT), located at Paranal observatory in the middle of the Atacama desert. The VLT actually comprises four massive telescopes which are usually used separately, although their light can be combined for special observations.
For our observations we don’t need quite so much light-collecting power, so will be using the smaller, but still very capable, New Technology Telescope (NTT) at La Silla observatory, also in the Atacama, but in its slightly more hospitable Southern outskirts.
I, and my observing colleague Seb Foucaud, arrived in Santiago earlier today after long journeys from the UK and Taiwan, respectively. ESO is an extremely well organised operation and really looks after visiting astronomers. We were met at the airport by an ESO representative and driven to the Guest House in the affluent Las Condes suburb of Santiago. The Guest House is renowned for its hospitality, friendly staff, good food and the traditional Pisco Sour cocktail before dinner. Most visiting astronomers stay here for one night before and after their observing run. Tomorrow morning we fly to North to La Serena and then drive to La Silla observatory to begin the preparations for our run, which starts on Thursday night. Right now I’d better get some much needed sleep. I’ll give you an update when we get to the observatory.
Our paper ‘Green Peas in Galaxy Zoo hits the public pre-print archive astro-ph today. If you’d like to see the paper in full detail you can download it here
(click on PDF to get the full paper).
We’ve also summarized the science results and much of the process of writing the paper in a separate blog post. Its now been accepted for publication in MNRAS, and we’ll keep you all up to date as it goes through the publication process.
Edit: Yale press release