Thursday, 7 April 2011

Thunder and lightening, very very boring

The thing we fear most arrived with a certain inevitability. A massive storm front crashed into the Hawaiian island from the North. I awoke yesterday to rain and hail so loud, I thought I'd left my heating fan on overnight. Today, as a change, I awoke to thunder. Astronomers fear high cirrus clouds because they block the view of the night sky, and they fear summit cloud, because the rain and snow can cause black ice, a real danger. We have both in great supply. And so the mountain turns from being a hard working environment, to an incredibly dull, unsatisfying one.

The all-sky camera at UH2.2 - during the day this typically shows clear skies and telescopes on the horizon, at night the milky way in all its glory. This is the picture today, rain on the lens and fog obscuring the telescopes

Instead of preparing for observations, observing at the summit and reducing the data the next day, we are caught at 3000m trying to do other work, work that doesn't interest us, all at the high altitudes that make concentrating so difficult. It is a lonely time at 3am, the entire building dark, when you're the only one awake. And now it is almost as quiet, 3pm, up before everyone because sleeping at the mountain is always a gamble. I usually sleep better than most, but in these conditions, the daily rhythm broken, I sit in a quiet office, trying to plow through admin work from back home as the mountain storm gently rumbles to me in the background.

Mauna Kea is regarded as one of the premier observing sites in the world, due to its dry clear air.

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