Friday, April 24, 2009


There are few things more central to professional astronomy than the observing run. They're hard to describe because they're so contradictory -- exhausting certainly, but also frustrating and exhilarating, exciting and tedious.

Right now I'm making multiple copies of my data, so that if my laptop dies on the way home, or a DVD breaks, I'll still have the data for which I've worked so hard. This is, by far, the most tedious part -- you're tired, you've accomplished what you came for (or not, if the weather was bad), and now you sit while the DVD slowly records. My ritual during this process is to listen to an old "Legends of Motown" CD. I have no idea what "Stop (in the Name of Love)" has to do with astrophysics, but it always makes me feel good after a hard night's work.

Had some long exposures toward morning, so I got to stand on the catwalk and watch the stars. Venus, Saturn, and the sliver moon were rather ridiculously lovely. (I'm far too lazy to see the 5am stars unless I've been up all night, so this is a rare treat.) A few good meteors, too, and all above, the Milky Way. Sometimes life, if not perfect, is good enough.


Anne M. Archibald said...

Observing is indeed a great feeling. It's a bit diminished for me because what I've done is almost all remote observing - just log in to a VNC session from wherever you happen to be. But especially when I'm using a mode with realtime feedback, to hit "go" and know that the biggest radio telescope in the world just pointed to your source and there it is, right where and when you predicted it'd be... that's a great feeling.

For some reason the random play on my laptop often comes up with Tangerine Dream's "Inferno", so that's become my observing music.

I wish I could say we were careful about backups, but when an observing run can be a terabyte, we mostly just hope the disks don't crash before the paper is published...

dr. dave said...

i hope you feel appropriately guilty for getting paid to do that. :)