Thursday, October 18, 2007

Go, Hubble, Go!

This week, while our big symposium was underway here at Texas, the Hubble Space Telescope was also working on my behalf. This week, over a period of 7 days, Hubble is collecting the data for my approved project. It's about halfway done, and everything seems to be working so far! Although, to be honest, I haven't seen any of the data yet.

Getting pictures from orbiting telescopes is much different from getting pictures here on Earth. On the ground, we astronomers go to a mountain, operate the telescope, put our images on computer disks, and then take them back home.

But space is different. Of course, we can't go to the telescope and control its every move (that would be fun, but rather expensive). But there are other constraints, too. Hubble is not in constant contact with the ground -- we can only get its data when it passes over ground-based radio antennas. As I type this, Hubble is over the South Pacific, east-southeast of Kiribati, so there aren't many radio antennas there. Also, Hubble is constrained to keep within a certain angle of the sun in order to get solar power, so there are only certain times when my object is visible. In between those times, Hubble wanders to other parts of the sky to work on other projects. And, because Hubble has an old computer, all the observations must be planned weeks in advance. Even if I were to have my laptop attached to the radio antenna receiving Hubble data, I would not be able to make changes if there were problems with the data.

So, I have to be patient. My data will be downloaded as time permits, checked for egregious errors, processed through basic steps, and then sent to me. Only then, probably some time in the next week or two, will I know how good or bad my pictures are!

1 comment:

  1. HBO Video Presents Magnificent Desolation: Walking on the Moon on November 6th!

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    Look out for this fascinating DVD--Out Nov. 6th!