24
Jul
10

Update from Chile

Sunset over Las Campanas Observatory

Just wanted to give a quick update on why I started this blog and then seemed to never do anything with it!  I have not lost interest in it or in the goals that I hope to achieve.  The simple answer is I started it at a poor time.  I got the idea to start a blog and jumped in without thinking about what was coming up in my life.

From the title of this post you may have guessed that I am currently in Chile.  Your powers of observation are correct!  While this trip is amazing, preparing for it left me with very little time to myself.  Let me assure you, more Critical Mix will be coming!

Since “my life” is a category for the blog I’ll take a moment to talk about this trip!  I’d like for this to help people see what being a scientist (an astronomer in my case) is really about.  It is far from the stereotype of the crazy guy in the lab coat with no friends.  Depending on the sections of the blog you’ve read you may know that I am currently a graduate student at Texas A&M University and work in the astronomical instrumentation lab.  Here we develop software, hardware, instruments, and equipment for the next generation of telescopes and astronomical tools.  We have been and continue to work on numerous projects for Las Campanas Observatory near La Serena Chile.  Of course we have to test things!  So here we are in Chile at about 8000 feet, at one of the premier observing sites in the world testing our instruments and freezing in telescope domes!  It is odd hearing everybody I know talk about burning up in the summer while I freeze in the winter!  Plus the moon is upside down and the sky is unknown!  The differences of moving to a different hemisphere are amazing!

Anyways after a 19 hour trip we arrived at Las Campanas Observatory (LCO) just in time to grab lunch.  Afterwards we immediately launched into unpacking equipment and installing our instruments.  After a couple of days we were ready to begin testing (which I am doing right now).  The experience here is awesome.  This place is truly geared solely to the needs of an astronomer.  Precautions are in place to make sure that people on night schedules are not bothered at all.  Everybody is friendly and quick to help with whatever you may need, and Zucaritas are placed in every Telescope Control Room!  (Zucaritas are Frosted Flakes.)  And none of that is counting the view, day or night!

There are relatively few people on the mountain at any given time.  The astronomy community is small to begin with and narrowing it down to those working at a single location at a particular time gives that place a very comfortable feel.  You know most people by name after your first day (though old faces are always leaving and being replaced with new as observing runs come and go).  The doors to your room stay unlocked and never once does this seem odd or present a concern.  Conversation can be started with anyone regardless whether you know them or not and they are happy to talk about what they are doing and their experiences.  Even someone like me, a beginner in the professional astronomical community, found someone that I have a connection to through a previous professor.

Trips like this inspire me to continue to pursue the course I have chosen.  Sometimes sitting in classes, taking notes, doing homework, etc. can drain the life and enthusiasm right out of a person, but getting out and really doing astronomy and immersing yourself in the field brings it all to life again.  This will go down as one of my most memorable experiences and will always remind me why I do what I do.

The nearly full Moon over the twin Magellan Telescopes at LCO

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