Sunday, September 12, 2010

Little Maya and the Big Telescope

Well, it's 3:09am Hawai'i Time, and I can proudly say GREETINGS from the KECK Telescope Headquarters! I've been up and observing for many an hour, still with apprx. 2 hours until sunrise. So, while those giant mirrors are taking spectroscopic data on Andromeda satellite galaxies, I may as well post some updates.

Here I am:

But not really. I'm actually here:

Just look at all of that fancy equipment! As it turns out, the Keck Headquarters are quite far from the actual Mauna Kea Summit. I've gathered that this is because the telescope is located at 14,000 feet above sea level, and the average scientist wouldn't be able to make it up that far without their inhalers. Just kidding, scientists! We're not all asthmatics!

I feel pretty naive that I hadn't figured that one out before getting here, and so I actually won't have a chance to see the real telescopes. This is pretty disappointing, mostly because if I had known, I could have gotten a free ride up the summit and a full tour of the telescopes. I suppose this means that I'll have to make it back here sometime in my life (sometime this semester would be great, if not a bit of a stretch) to get the full experience.

All of that aside though, it's still been awesome observing here. Those fancy shmancy computers allow for us to control the telescope remotely, and actually click the button that takes the exposures. I'm here with Erik Tollerud, (a graduate student), and he's doing research for James Bullock at UC Irvine looking at Andromeda satellite galaxies to gather their photometric properties and radial velocities to determine their percentages of dark matter!!! The work is highly related to the research I did with Beth Willman at Haverford this past summer, so I understand the reasoning behind the project, but have still been learning a lot.

The nocturnal lifestyle is pretty cool, too. When I got here Thursday night, the goal was to stay up as late as humanly possible to get used to not going to sleep before the sun was up. I made it to about 2:30 watching "The Locator" (just for you, Mom) until I passed out. I was sure that I wouldn't be able to stay up to observe, but I did all last night, and I'm doing pretty well tonight! It's been my job to realign the different "slit masks" that select which objects we observe. This happens about every hour or so, and in between, there's not much else to do while the telescope gathers the data. So, I've been mostly doing work for Beth (I'm continuing my research with her remotely in Hawai'i), and reading the blogs of other study abroaders. (Mary, Elinor, Tom, Maddie-- If you're reading this, just know that I now feel fully updated on all of your lives!)

In other, non-astronomy related news, my jellyfish wound is back with a vengeance!!! It's been a week of a weird-looking marks, but I've barely noticed it. Now, it's itching like crazy and it's strangely puffy. I read online that this happens sometimes with jelly-stings. One article even said that is could be due to hatching jellyfish larvae beginning to release their toxins! AAHH!!

Ok, I'm getting rambly. Can you blame me? It is 3:37am... Much love.


  1. Thanks for keeping us all posted, Maya. Sounds like an amazing experience, even if it's not the one you expected. Little Maya, Big World. A fair match! Love you so much!

  2. Super nice website and thank you for sharing with us this beautiful passion Maya.