Friday, June 22, 2007

A night of troubles

Some nights at the telescope make me age prematurely. Tonight has been one of those nights!

My observing class is using two different telescopes during our week here at McDonald Observatory. Tonight we had a new camera put on one telescope (to do different types of science), and we started our second night on the other telescope.

I started the night showing the students how to use the new camera on the larger telescope. Things worked fairly well until we went to look at our first object on the sky, when we discovered that we could not get our object in the camera. After struggling with that for a while, we solved the problem (an important part had not clicked into place).

After this, I went to the other telescope to check on the students there. First, we couldn't get the telescope in focus. The computer that is supposed to help us focus the telescope was claiming that it was adjusting the focus, but really nothing was happening. After that, the telescope lost track of the filter (colored glass we use to study stars and galaxies of different colors) it was using, so we had to do some work to figure out which filter was in place. Then, when we went to look at a galaxy, we couldn't find it. We checked the telescope's pointing by looking at a bright star (which was there). So, we went back to the galaxy, and finally found it -- it was much fainter than we expected.

So, finally, three hours after dark, my students were able to get started on their projects. This is the way things go, sometimes. And hopefully everyone learned a little bit about patience and troubleshooting. And hopefully we won't have to learn these lessons again!

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