"A Night of No Observing"

Trisha Borgman - April 11, 1996

    Hi everyone! Well, our last night of observing at Kitt Peak was completely washed out by the clouds. We waited in the console room for several hours, hoping that the weather would clear up for us. But, at about midnight, we received a message from the telescope operator at the 4-meter telescope saying that all domes must close due to high winds and blowing snow. We weren't actually getting any snow where we were, but the wind was unbelievably strong. Just before we received that message, though, as we sat quietly in the console room, we heard a loud CRASH! We both jumped out of our seats and ran into the dome, fearing that perhaps the telescope supports and been damaged by the wind, or that some other piece of equipment had crashed into the telescope. We were lucky--the crash had been caused by a safety helmet in the dome which was blown off its hanger on the wall. The helmet flew all the way down the stairs into the hallway outside the console room, where it crashed into the wall. Boy, did that ever wake us up!!!

At one point during that last night, though, it appeared that the weather would, in fact, clear up! We sprang into action and began planning our observations for the rest of the night. This time, it was my turn to do all of the planning. I spent about an hour or more looking through our list of target stars, computing when the observations should be taken, and calculating how long the exposure times should be. But...as soon as we were ready to go, the clouds were back. Even though I only had an hour or so to do the planning, it was a good experience to get all that practice! I just wish we would have been able to observe... It was kind of sad to leave the telescope for the last time--it had become my home for 4 fabulous nights. Maybe I'll be able to go back someday. I sure hope so!

We left the mountain the next day. When I woke up, I looked out the window and said to myself, "Wow--it looks just like we're in an airplane, flying through a cloud!" And then I realized we weren't on an airplane! The clouds had become so thick and so low that, since we were still on top of the mountain, we were actually inside the cloud! It was cold and damp, and so humid that the water condensed on the branches of the trees...then, when the wind blew, it felt like it was raining!

Anyway, I spent another day at home with my parents, then came back to Baltimore. What an experience!!! Wow. I've been looking at some of our images, and they really look fantastic!

Do you remember the mysterious "wispy clouds" we found in one of the images we took? Well, I still haven't figured out what they are. My boss has been out of town, so I haven't been able to ask for his help. Hopefully, he'll be able to take a look at them next week. I promise to keep you posted about what I learn!

Well, I need to get back to work. I will write more next week!

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