Palomar Observatory: Day 3

Our observing program runs on the nights of 14-15 November 2012; our proposal information can be found¬†here. Paola and I spent the last two nights acclimatizing to the night-time schedule, watching the telescope/instrument in action, and working on our own observing program. Heading over to the telescope in the afternoon, though, was foreboding….clouds….many of them.

The telescope we are using is the Hale 5 meter telescope, named after George Hale (a really cool astronomer), at the Palomar Observatory. The primary mirror of Hale is 5 meters in diameter, which amounts to a collecting area 70x greater than the 60 cm telescope at York University! This thing is big, as demonstrated by me standing underneath it:

Currently, Hale is the 19th largest optical reflecting telescope in the world, but between 1948-1976 Hale was the largest. Adding to its fame, Hale saw its first light under the direction of Edwin Hubble, who observed NGC 2261 (aka Hubble’s variable nebula).

The instrument we are using, a spectrograph, is called ‘Double Spectrometer.’ What it does is take the light focused by the telescope and breaks it up into its colours (just like a a prism breaks up light into a rainbow). Looking at the spectrum of colours of an object (in our case black holes), instead of just a picture of it allows you to learn much more. Here’s what DoubleSpec looks like:

…..DoubleSpec is about as big as me! haha.

Paola and I tried really hard to glean some data out of the beginning of the night, but the clouds came in quickly. Here’s the control station (and Paola!):


The clouds that plagued us all night sure made for a pretty sunrise in the east.

Image taken from the catwalk outside the dome, at approximately 10 meters high.
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