Monday, August 30, 2004

Preparing to go to the telescope

It surprises many people to learn that astronomers do not spend every night awake at the telescope. Often, I have only a few nights every few months. The rest of the time is spent in my office at normal business hours. More on that in a future post.

This month I am very lucky and have seven nights on the telescope -- four nights at Kitt Peak followed by three nights at the MMT telescope. Both of these are in the desert around Tucson, Arizona.

Because I only have a few nights on each telescope, I need to make sure I am fully prepared. I have a list of the objects I want to observe, plus a list of objects to look at if the weather is only so-so (often my main target is so faint it is not possible to see if the weather isn't perfect).

A month ago I had to send an email to the telescope detailing how I want the telescope set up. Do I want any filters in the telescope? What types of things will I be doing? Do I want a room and food while on top of the mountain? (YES!!) This way the workers on Kitt Peak know how to get the telescope ready for me; they know to clean a room for me, and they know to put out extra food on the day I arrive.

More tomorrow on my preparations...