the weather finally broke tonight so we could come up to the summit of mauna kea.... woohoo! after driving along the 4-wheel drive only dirt road for 15 minutes, we started to see snow on the ground leftover from the storms of the last few days. we also saw many local folks driving back down the rough road with the backs of their trucks completely loaded with as much snow as they could possibly fit inside the bed! a mini-mountain of snow that peaked above the cab as you looked at the trucks from the front. i dont know why, but i just thought that was hilarious!
we arrived at the summit in time to see a little bit of the sunset illuminating the patches of snow around the big cinder cone.... but i'm very sad to say... that left my camera back in my dormatory tonight :( oops!! what was i thinking??? hopefully we can come back up tomorrow night so i can get some good shots of the snow. to tide you over, here's one of a lot of little cinder cones and a sunset shot i took in 2003.
that land mass peaking out thru the ocean of clouds is the island of maui!
as the sun sank below the horizon and the clouds began to clear, i came outside to check the sky and play with my new favorite toy in the whole world... night vision goggles!!
its quite amazing how much detail you can see thru these goggles when very little light is visible to your eyes. not only could i walk around with perfect ease, but the sky completely opened up! the newly-brightened comet 17p/holmes was much bigger than anything else and i could easily see a solid central point with an extended fuzzy circle around it. i could make out the 4-degree fuzzy disk of the andromeda galaxy!! i could see more individual stars in the pleiades star cluster (the little tiny dipper) than i have ever resolved with my eyes.
the night vision binoculars dont have any magnification, but they amplify the low levels of infrared and visible light present. the light comes through a lens and into a tube. this tube turns the bundles of light energy, photons, into electrons. as the electrons continue thru the tube, atoms from inside the tube release electrons of similar energy. in this way, thousands of electrons exit the tube when only a few entered! when the electrons exit the tube, they pass thru a coated screen that reacts to the electrons and releases green photons. the photons, in the same position as when they entered the binoculars only amplified thousands of times, pass thru a final lens that focuses them to where our eyes can directly view the image!!
as the sun set i could see a bright green glow thru the goggles on the western horizon, but as i scanned around, i noticed a very bright glow to the southeast coming thru the clouds.... what could that be?? my observing partners informed me that it was the LAVA from the currently active volcanos on the other side of the island!!! i could see the glow of the flow thru the clouds. awesome!
the temperature tonight has dropped consistently, but i keep going outside every hour or so just to find more star clusters and diffuse nebulae with the night vision goggles!