Saturday, March 12, 2005

We are at Lick Observatory on Mount Hamilton (map).

We just wrapped up a night of observing through the 36" Great Lick Refractor -- what an experience! We must be living right, because conditions were absolutely perfect for observing -- clear skies, little wind, and pleasant temperatures.

The evening started with a wonderful tour of the facilites conducted by our host, Lick astronomer and Director of Operations Remington Stone. During the tour we spent considerable time in the dome of the three meter (120") Shane reflector, the largest telescope at the observatory, where we learned about the various instruments available to astonomers and how the telescope is used for modern astronomical observation.

We then went to the astronomers' dining hall for dinner, where we met astronomers Wei-Dong Li from UC Berkeley, Mel from SFSU, and Dave from UCSD. Laurie Hatch, resident photographer at the observatory, also joined us. After dinner, we enjoyed a panoramic view of the entire observatory and learned about the nine telescopes housed in its eight domes.

As night fell, we again went to the three meter reflector, this time to the control room where Dave and one of the Lick telescope technicians were setting up for Dave's observations. Dave is using a spectrograph to analyze light from a distant quasar, the absorbtion of which allows him to make an analysis of the intervening matter. In other words, Dave is trying to figure out what all the matter in the universe is. From our standpoint, it was way cool to be looking at an object eight billion light years away -- the light we were "seeing" (by way of the CCD camera in the instrument) was half as old as the universe itself!

From there we proceeded to the 36" refractor in the main building for our own observing.
We had fantastic views of Saturn and its moon Titan, Jupiter and the four Galilean moons, the Orion Nebula, the sombrero galaxy, a globular cluster, and one or two more Messier objects.

Truly a rare opportunity, and an experience we will not soon forget.

We will spend the night here on the observatory gounds, and tomorrow we will head back down the mountain.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, the night at the observatory sounds like a great experience! Wish I could do that.


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