Wednesday, March 25, 2009

These are the times that try astronomers' souls

This week I am at McDonald Observatory, helping my colleagues with an observing run that was scheduled at an inopportune time. They took the first half of the 8-night run, and I'm finishing it out. Unfortunately, things haven't gone well so far.

First, the weather hasn't been cooperating. Most of the time it has been cloudy (like tonight), and yesterday we had a dust storm that forced us to close. Tomorrow it is supposed to be clear, but it will be very windy. That means either too windy to operate the telescopes safely, or more dust.

Then we've had some equipment problems. The main camera failed at the start of the third night of the run (a clear, still night, of course!). So, I brought up our spare camera. We installed it two nights ago, and then a new problem cropped up -- the camera lost track of the time and started taking extra, very short exposures. For many types of data, we could just throw the short pictures away. But we are trying to measure changes in the brightness of white dwarf stars on 10-second timescales, and if the camera forgets what time it is and starts taking extra pictures, we can no longer string together several hours worth of snapshots.

I woke up early today and spent the daylight hours troubleshooting the problem (it's gone away, but we don't know why). So, now that the system seems to be working again, the clouds have come back. It's supposed to clear off tomorrow, but the wind is going to pick up again toward dangerously high speeds. (Dangerous for the telescopes, that is.)

It's pretty frustrating, and there's really nothing we can do other than wait for the weather to change for the better, or for our time at the telescope to run out.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous7:14 PM

    Hey Kurtis, I didn't know you had a blog! Glad I saw it in your Facebook status! I have one, but I use it mostly for photography. I have another more personal LJ, but it's locked. :-) Here's the public one if you're interested though!