Saturday, June 23, 2007

"You may wish to consider closing the dome."

Today was my class's fourth night at McDonald Observatory. Most of the students are now on a night schedule, so they barely woke up in time for our 4pm field trip to see the Hobby-Eberly Telescope, the largest telescope in the continental United States. After that field trip, Casey Deen (pictured above) mugged for a few pictures as we prepared the telescopes for the night.

Our night started well, though we did see thunderstorms on the distant horizon. About 1 in the morning, we stopped due to clouds, but we kept the telescope pointed at the sky in case the clouds blew over. After 20 minutes or so, the telephone rang. Professor David Lambert, Director of the McDonald Observatory, was calling from a neighboring telescope. Professor Lambert very calmly and politely said, "You may wish to consider closing the dome." So, I sent the students to close the dome just as the skies opened and it began to rain. And then we all had a good laugh about the very cordial tone of Professor Lambert in the face of impending disaster.

It continued to storm and rain all night, and at 4am, after several games of Scrabble, we called it a night. And so here I sit, writing and trying to stay up just a little longer and keep on the night schedule. So now you know what astronomers do when it rains -- wait up as late as possible to see if it is going to clear off. And, if not, we stay up later just to stay on our schedule.

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