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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):