Monday, January 29, 2007

new constellations

a month out of germany, a week in chile, and i still find it necessary to remind myself of the proper affirmation... "ja ja, er, i mean, si si!" haha! i wonder how long it will take me to switch into spanish mode?

along with a new culture and language surrounding me, my day to day astronomical mindset has drastically changed as well. in munich, i worked at the max-planck institute for extraterrestrial physics to produce a paper on my dissertation research. i was surrounded by three different world-class astronomy institutes and felt (embarrassingly) giddy walking into a colloquium hall and seeing astronomers who have seemed "famous" to me during my graduate school days of reading sooooo many of their papers! at the same time, i felt respected, challenged and intrigued to comprehend and discuss the leading issues is modern astronomy! research, publish, research... what an exciting adventure it was....

now i've switched gears a bit, working for the gemini-south observatory, living in la serena, chile. i arrived last sunday and have spent the week aquainting myself with new people, my new home and my new job. i'm a member of the gemini science team that is commissioning the new FLAMINGOS-2 instrument... once it arrives after being built in florida.

there are meetings here everyday to discuss and organize the operations of the gigantic 8.1-meter (diameter of the main mirror) gemini telescope. it's confusing to jump into a group that uses acronyms for nearly half of their words!! the majority of my observing has been on the old, highly rigged and relatively simple 2.7-m telescope at the mcdonald observatory in west texas, so it's quite amazing and informative to learn about all the intricate mechanisms that have been put in place on gemini to correct for things like the atmospheric blurring of light, for example!!

on saturday a few of us drove 2 hours east to observe with gemini for 4 nights (pictures)! my new boss, marcel, is the official astronomer for these nights and i'm just here to learn as much as possible... which hasnt been a problem so far! the full workings of this telescope combine to produce one of the most complicated systems i've ever seen! no wonder so many people meet everyday to discuss every issue behind its operations. there are so many complicated individual procedures that work without the observers even having to think about them (until they dont work, of course)...

in addition to the observations, i got to see comet mcnaught last night (see previous post) and i've been able to explore the whole southern sky! it's like a whole new universe but with the same familiar milky way disk rising and setting.... orion stands on his head... alpha centauri, our nearest stellar neighbor, shines brightly and points to the southern cross which reminds me of the harmonic crosby, stills, nash and young lyrics...

When you see the Southern Cross for the first time
You understand now why you came this way
'Cause the truth you might be runnin' from is so small
But it's as big as the promise, the promise of a comin' day

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