It has been a long few weeks, but tonight is my last night of observing for the year of 2005. (I start up again on January 1!) I always have mixed feelings at the end of an observing run. I am always quite happy to go back home and get back to a typical routine. But there is always more data I wish I had been able to collect. I guess that gives me something to do for next year.
Most of my night at the telescope is spent waiting for exposures to finish. We open the shutter on the camera for ten minutes to half an hour, and then sit back and wait for it to finish. What I do while waiting depends quite a bit on the camera I am using. For taking pictures, like tonight, I just do a quick check to make sure the image quality is okay (and figure out what is wrong if the quality isn't high); otherwise I wait to work on the images when I get back to Tucson.
If I am taking spectra (splitting the light up into its component colors), I need to work on the data to figure out if the object we are looking at is "interesting." Of course, the definition of "interesting" depends on what we want to do. For instance, when I am looking for white dwarfs (the remains of dead stars), we find a lot of quasars (bright black holes halfway across the universe). Although quasars are quite cool objects, we aren't looking for them, so we move on to another object. If the star is a white dwarf, though, we need to stay and take more observations. Clear as mud? Probably.