Thursday, December 15, 2005

Practice makes perfect!

Last night I spent several hours at Kitt Peak learning how to use a new camera built by Ed Olszewski, an astronomer at Steward Observatory. This camera is on Steward's 90-inch Bok Telescope. This camera is huge by astronomy standards -- over a one-degree field-of-view. In other words, four full moons could fit in a single picture!

I will be using this camera for the first time on New Year's Day as part of an ambitious new survey my collaborators and I are doing. So, we figured we had better go up to learn how to use the camera. Each astronomy camera is different, with its own strengths and weaknesses. And since telescope time is precious, we donn't want to waste our own time trying to learn how to use the camera and then using it wrongly.

Last night, astronomer Richard Cool was kind enough to take time out of his work on the camera to teach my colleagues and I how to use it. We learned a lot, and I think we'll be able to make good use of the telescope now! We probably will struggle some our first night trying to remember everything, but as time goes on we will get better and more efficient.

Just like playing a musical instrument requires a patient teacher, time to practice, and just as you can expect mistakes when you first start playing, using an astronomical instrument requires a patient teacher and lots of hands-on use, with a few missteps along the way.

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