Friday, October 15, 2010

on an extinct volcano

aloha from the top of hawai'i!

i'm sitting at the United Kingdom Infrared Telescope (UKIRT) and will be here for the next 5 nights. my last visit was about a year ago and i posted a few descriptions that you can read for more pictures and stories: scenes from mauna kea and twinkle twinkle little star (about adaptive optics).

the peak of mauna kea is at 14000 ft, which is really really high (about 3 times higher than the tallest peak in the UK). the potential effects of such a high altitude on the human body have forced this observatory to limit the amount of time that people are allowed to stay at the summit to 14 hours. which is fine with me - 14 hours is a long work day/night, especially at high altitude!

during observing runs on mauna kea, astronomers sleep at hale pohaku which is at 9000 ft. i spent one night there in order to acclimate to altitude, before coming up to the summit the next night. the photo below shows the buildings where we stay, the visitor center, and some cinder cones from the extinct volcano.

tonight is my first night on the summit, and i just reread the safety material they gave me which describes some of the minor symptoms of high altitude: headaches, drowsiness, nausea, loss of balance, altered mental state, and impaired reason.

i had a headache earlier, but it's gone now. the bathroom is down a flight of stairs and i have to remember to walk back up to the control room veeeerrrrrryyy ssslloooooooowly, or else i get light-headed and dizzy. the altered mental state and impaired reason is annoying when i cannot remember the right word for something, but slightly amusing when i mix my words up into some humorous mutation of what i actually mean to say.

the clouds are coming and going pretty rapidly tonight. we start an observation series and by the end the weather is too bad to result in useful data. i cant even go outside to enjoy the night sky because its hazy and too fuzzy. so for tonight, and the next five nights, this is my station:

the three screens on the right allow me to choose targets and control the observations. the middle three allow me to monitor the weather and quality of the data collected. the four screens on the left display the data after preliminary processing so i know whether things are running smoothly.

time for my night lunch...


Anonymous said...

Awfully jealous my dear pixie. Are you UKIDSSing ?

Unknown said...

i'm trying to UKIDSS. let's hope the clouds give me more of a fighting chance during the next several nights!

heroineworshipper said...

Surprised observing is still done in person instead of remotely.