Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Day 3729

I'm starting to feel like I live here. Life has settled into a routine. You don't miss meals at the Astronomer's Lodge. The food is excellent and it's the one time during the day where you can relax and chat with people. Today was Taco Tuesday. Need I say more? This afternoon was my first work day at the 107" telescope. I did three tours today. Usually there are about twenty to thirty people per tour. The tours are interesting and everyone seems to enjoy them. An observatory staff member gives a presentation describing the telescope and demonstrating how it moves. My duties as his assistant are mostly insuring that people don't get into trouble or hurt themselves. I escort visitors to the restrooms and make sure the children don't try to climb dangerous ladders or venture into restricted areas. The observatory can be a very dangerous place with lots of places to fall and buttons that could do a lot of damage if pressed at the wrong time. I make sure that nobody has a heart attack going up the long flight of stairs leading to the telescope on the fifth floor of the building. Since the observatory is at a fairly high altitude, people have passed out climbing these stairs.

Between tours I stay at the observatory until the next tour arrives. It's kind of a weird feeling to be alone in this huge building at the top of a remote mounting. Inside the building you hear the rumble of air conditioning and filtration equipment. Outside all you hear is the wind. It is absolutely silent. You are on your feet a lot during tour duty and at the end of the day all you want to do is soak your feet in some warm water. If I do this again I definitely need to find some more comfortable shoes.

The skies were clear for tonight's star party. It was absolutely beautiful. As the sky grew dark you could see the faint triangular glow of the zodiacal light. This light is caused by sunlight hitting interplanetary dust and is hard to see unless the sky is clear and dark. The Winter Milky Way was clearly visible as well, along with thousands of stars that are never visible in a city like Dallas. I was assigned M-41, the same telescope target I was looking at last night.  This time, thanks to a quick Google search in my room before breakfast,  I knew more about it. I told people that they were looking at something 2300 light years away that was probably discovered by Aristotle. Open star clusters can be quite beautiful. All my telescope visitors seemed to enjoy what they saw tonight.

After the star party was over the staff and volunteers had a meeting about the coronavirus. It may rain tomorrow and when  this happens the star party usually moves indoors and staff members give presentations in the visitor center theater instead. Since Spring Break star parties are large and the theater is small, the observatory decided that it was too risky to pack the theater with people during a coronavirus pandemic. If it rains everything will be canceled. This was probably a wise precaution, but I think the cat is already out of the bag. We've already had close proximity to hundreds of strangers ever since the Spring Break festivities began.

I'm glad my tour guide duties don't start until afternoon. Writing the blog after star parties have concluded and I've had time to drive up the mountain without my lights on keeps me up very late. I set the blog to post just before midnight on Tuesday, but I'm really writing this in the wee hours of Wednesday morning. Luckily I can sleep late tomorrow. I'm not going to set an alarm and will just try to sleep as long as I can. The room is certainly dark enough to get a good night's sleep.

Ely is today's Dalmatian of the Day
Watch of the Day