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Keck time!

It's been a little while since I've posted here because I was busy last week preparing for my first solo night on the Keck 1 Telescope. The twin Keck telescopes are the largest visible light telescopes in the world, with a diameter of 10 meters. I've spent about a dozen nights at Keck as a graduate student observing with my advisor, Geoff Marcy, and/or various collaborators. But last night was the first time Dad gave me the keys to the Corvette--and I didn't even have a curfew!

Sunday morning, Erin and Owen dropped me off at Honolulu airport and I caught an Aloha flight over to The Big Island (that's its actual name!). The flight took 45 minutes and I drove a rental car another 45 minutes from Kona International Airport to Keck HQ in Waimea. One of the great things about observing at Keck is that you can observe from sea level instead of having to spend the night at 14,000 feet where the actual telescope is. It may sound a little silly, but yes, I traveled an hour and a half to use a telescope remotely. Astronomy!

Below are are pictures of 1) The telescopes at 14,000 feet atop the ex-volcano Mauna Kea 2) Keck HQ in sleep Waimea and 3) your's truly hanging out in the control room, wearing a T-shirt and shorts.

I was using the telescope to search for planets around nearby stars. Here's how a typical planet hunting night goes: I tell the telescope operator what star to got to. The operator (TO or OA) is on the mountain gasping for oxygen and pictured on the TV screen above and to the left of me, and we communicate using the Polycom unit next to the TV. The TO points the telescope to the star and I click a button that says "expose." I get 4 monitors plus my laptop to push a button over and over. Science!

Actually, the information on those monitors is very important, conveying information about the status of the various instrument components, telescope and target star, as well as planning tools, weather information and other useful software. Oh, and don't forget the clock. Yes, that's 4:11 AM in the picture. I had recently pushed past the 2 AM barrier and had caught my second wind. I used a relatively long 3 minute exposure to set up my camera in timer mode to snap this picture.

Thanks to clear skies, low humidity, sub-arcsecond seeing and a highly skilled TO, I was able to observe 195 stars last night, making my first solo Keck run successful beyond what I could have hoped for. In fact, I was moving through my target list so fast that I had to add some fainter stars to my list so I could do things like run to the restroom and get food!

I get to repeat this again Saturday when I go back to Keck to observe for another project, this time for my collaborator Josh Winn and our Rossiter project.


karinms said…
195 stars!? Thats incredible. Do you fly home before going to sleep if you've only got one night or do you stay there?
mama mia said…
Looking at the Rossiter Project link, I wished I had taken more math in college. Amazing stuff you are into John!

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