Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Day 3730

Today was amazing. Nothing went according to plan, but I managed to come up with a new plan that was much better. My tour guide shift was over early today, so I used my telescope key to open the door to the 82" Otto Struve dome and ask one of the staff members if it I could take pictures of the telescope. No problem. Go right ahead they told me. I had full access to the telescope floor all my myself and spent several hours getting some good pictures of the Otto Struve. I've always wanted to see this telescope, so this was an amazing opportunity.

Tonight's star party got canceled because of coronavirus fears. There was rain in the forecast and nobody thought it was a good idea to pack 500 people into the small visitor center theater for the alternate cloudy weather program. Since the CDC now recommends that gatherings of more than 50 people be canceled, moving the star party indoors wasn't going to work. Everything was canceled and I had the night off.

Since I was expecting rain, I thought I'd spend the evening in my room watching Netflix movies on my computer. Amazingly, the skies cleared around 9 PM and I got an e-mail from an astronomer I'd met earlier in the day, asking me if I'd like to join him while he was observing at the 36" telescope.

This telescope was only a short walk from the Astronomer's Lodge, so I said I'd be there in a few minutes. We spent the next three hours looking at things I'd been wanting to see for years. I saw the Owl Nebula, Cleopatra's Eye, The Crab Nebula, The Eskimo Nebula, and the beautiful planetary nebula NGC 2438 superimposed on the open cluster M-46. Of course we looked at the Orion Nebula too and I could see colors and fine detail for the first time ever. The evening ended up being much better than the star party that was originally planned and probably better than a special viewing night as well. Best of all, I may get a chance to spend another evening at this telescope several days from now if the weather holds up. I think I finally have enough information so I can actually write my Sky and Telescope article the way it was originally intended.

The coronavirus has finally left its mark on the observatory. Nobody is sick, but all the rules have changed. Mostly this is because technically the observatory is part of the University of Texas system and has to follow the University's guidelines. We used to serve ourselves at a buffet line for lunch and dinner at the Astronomer's Lodge. No self service anymore, Starting today, the kitchen staff, all wearing gloves, has to hand us our food individually. I guess they were worried that someone would sneeze on the buffet table. Silverware is individually wrapped now and our salad is served in saran wrapped bowls instead of the giant salad bowl where we used to serve ourselves. There aren't big bowls of Guacamole and hot sauce on the tables anymore. We have our condiments served in little plastic cups with lids now. Do all these precautions actually change anything. I doubt it. Rules are rules though and I imagine that things will only get worse in the near future. Nobody wants to get sick. It's not acceptable to cough or sneeze in public anymore. Jeez. I've spent most of my life sneezing for no reason at all. It's awkward.

Tomorrow is my day off and I was thinking of driving to Marfa  It all depends on whether it rains or not. I'm not going to worry about the weather though. Something interesting will happen rain or shine. It always does.

Tyson is today's Dalmatian of the Day
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