Saturday, 28 August 2010

Night Two of our Jupiter observations, Mauna Kea Observatory

We are coming up to the half-way stage of our four-night run here at the IRTF. The second night has been productive, if a little more challenging than the first.

Firstly, the weather started off a little less friendly. Even though Mauna Kea's summit is 4,200 metres above sea level, and above most of the heavier cloud decks, we can still be affected by high-altitude cirrus clouds. Tonight we had the wispy variety, not enough to stop us observing but enough give us some trouble at the start of our shift.

Then we had to use a different system to guide the telescope on our target Jupiter. Again, nothing to stop us observing, but it meant learning a new routine on the fly. And at altitude, your brain does not function quite as crisply as normal. But we had help in the shape of Bobby Bus, one of the full-time staff astronomers at the Institute for Astronomy in Hilo.

One of the reasons I like to be at the telescope when I am observing, rather than working remotely over the internet, is that you can get help much easier from people on the spot. The other is that you meet up with people and some chance collaborations emerge.

This trip, we have Amanda Gulbis, from the South African Large Telescope, working on the IRTF for the six-hour shift up till midnight. She is testing out a new camera that works alongside SpeX. So tonight, Amanda stayed beyond her normal midnight down-time, taking her own images of Jupiter, testing the camera and providing us with a view in visible wavelengths to complement our infrared pictures. So a genuine "two for the price of one" situation, profiting us both.

During the course of yesterday, Tom Stallard, who is at the University of Leicester along with Henrik and our long-time collaborator, put together a neat programme to turn our images of Night One into a movie. There is still quite a bit of image processing to do, but the raw movie looks impressive, as the jovian aurorae come in and out of view as the planet rotates.

Sleeping during the day has been a problem for both Henrik and myself, so we will be pretty tired by the time our shift ends in an hour or so. But tonight's work seems to be every bit as good as last night's and that makes up for the lack of sleep.

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