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This would be night 6 of a 7 night run at the telescope for me. Observing is just about the only time I get to get my real astronomer on. You know the “real astronomer” thing that involves being in a telescope dome freezing your behind off for no obvious reason.
I think most of the public would be very disappointed to find out that us “real” astronomers don’t look through eyepieces. The gigantic telescope I’m at now actually does have an eyepiece, however the camera I’m using is where the seconday mirror would be, so the eyepiece is pretty darned useless. That may be just as well, I recall a previous observing run where I was using the spectrograph and did go out to use the eyepiece to see how good the tracking was on the moon to see if maybe the telescope would be useful for the LCROSS folks. I must say I pretty much don’t recommend looking at the moon when using a telescope over 2 meters in diameter, the image ghosts hang around for quite awhile.
I thought about counting how many observing runs I’ve done total, and on just this telescope but I think I might forget a few. I’ve been using this telescope since *ponders* the summer of 1999 when I started observing low mass x-ray binaries for my undergrad advisor. And now that I’ve admitted that I’ve been using this telescope over a decade I feel really damned old. It’s interesting to see what has an hasn’t changed since I started using the telescope:
What hasn’t changed? The telescope control system is still has Windows-riffic as always. We still have telescope operators (TOs) that move the telescope for us, and one of them was my TO on my very first observing run. The observer’s corner is always so damned cold that I have to wrap up in a sweater and a blanket to keep from becoming a popsicle.
What has changed: OMG the computers! I remember the days of the big clunky Suns in the observer’s corner. Now we’re using a mix of Windows (for the camera control) and Linux (for controlling filters and for poking at the actual data) and somehow with this change the computer monitors have shrunk rather than gotten bigger (I recall a wicked 24 inch dual monitor setup here). The cameras. . . the spectrograph is the same as it was in the last decade, but we’re gone from a sweet little 2K camera at Cass focus to a big prime focus behemoth. Not that I should really complain, half my observing run is an asteroid survey so I’m damned happy to be able to cover nearly a square degree in one image.
But before I start to go crazy for the night, here’s one of our two comet targets of the run, Comet Hartley 2, which is the target of a spacecraft rendevous by the Deep Impact spacecraft in a few days (ignore the weird gain change running through the middle of the image. . .the amps have different gains that will be corrected when I reduce the data):
So after the DPS I’ve decided that perhaps I should start a “No, Seriously?” theme for the times where I just cock my head and squint at people either over science or sometimes the way our scientific organizations are run. The DPS provided me many occasions to do that very thing, but I thought I’d start with something that went public before the DPS.
So the “No, Seriously” part 1 goes to the purported detection of the planet Gliese 581g reported to be the “Goldilocks planet” in many major press stories (like this one from NPR).
No, seriously, this as a Goldilocks planet? I think not.
For one- this planet is so close to it’s star that it’s tidally locked. Unlike the moon, this planet really would have a dark side, that stays dark all the freaking time. The definition of Goldilocks seems to be predicated on the sub-solar temperature- ie the temperature at the equator at the noon meridian, so that still doesn’t mean water would freeze and one wouldn’t freeze their anatomy off on the dark side of the planet.
For two- this planet is orbiting an M dwarf star. Admittedly the reason this is being released is that Earth-like planets if they exist are easier to find around M dwarf stars if it is a “Goldilocks planet” because their orbits would be very close to the star and thus their periods would be short enough you ought to get multiple orbits over a few years of study. But this star is an M dwarf! M dwarf stars are low mass and this star is found in a region with low mass star formation. What’s the problem with this you ask? The problem is Aluminum-26. Aluminum-26 (Al-26) is an isotope only found as a product of supernovae in regions of high mass star formation. Studies of our own solar system indicate that Al-26 was present in the proto-solar nebula and is responsible for the differentiation (ie segregation of minerals and melting) in planetesimals (ie asteroids) and planets (ie Earth). We like differentiation- it gives us a molten core and a dynamo which then in turn gives the Earth a magnetosphere which protects the surface of our planet from getting blasted by the solar wind.
But you know. . . if you want to live on a planet that’s tidally locked and probably has no magnetosphere so you can get blasted charged particles, please be my guest. Somehow though I doubt Goldilocks would find the planet and declare it to be just right.