"Using the Internet to do Astronomy"

Heidi Hammel - March 4, 1996
Planet Advocate for Neptune

    It's early morning on Mauna Kea. I saw some stars when I woke up, but now the clouds are back. We heard from the weather service that winds on the mountain were gusting up to 80 mph last night. The road crews have just left to see if they can clear through the snow to the summit. We will know in about two hours whether they have made it. In the meantime, I'll explain some ways that I used and am still using the Internet for this observing run. You can look at all these web sites yourself!

The most important web site for me right now is the weather page! I am checking this page every hour or so, watching the progression of the storms on the satellite weather photos. If you go there, the first picture to look at is the "Regional Weather Map." The Big Island of Hawaii, which is where I am, is the large island at the lower right. Another important map is the "Goes-9 Enhanced Water Vapor Image," which gives a big-picture satellite view of the clouds. Finally, there is a movie "Hawaii IR Satellite MPEG Movie" which shows the last couple of hours of weather over Hawaii, so you can see how things are changing.

If you want to see the observatories on Mauna Kea, go the observatory homepage. http://www.ifa.hawaii.edu/mko/ I am using the NASA Infrared Telescope Facility, which is the third dome from the left in the picture. It looks small, but the telescope inside is really big. Further down the MKO Homepage is a description of the Onizuka Center, which is the new name for Hale Pohaku. Most of us astronomers still call it Hale Pohaku, or HP for short.

You can see a picture of the NASA telescope if you go to the IRTF Homepage http://irtf.ifa.hawaii.edu/ Select "About the IRTF." To prepare for my run, I used the IRTF Homepage to get information about the other instrument I will be using in addition to the MIT camera. We will be using an IRTF camera called NSFCAM. About two weeks ago, I went to the IRTF Homepage, selected "IRTF Online," then "NSFCAM," then "Docs." This allowed me download the very latest manual (documentation) describing the camera (guide.rtf). I printed it at MIT, and read it on the long flight.

Lots of astronomers besides me are observing this particular event, which is the occultation by Jupiter of a star called "nu 2 Sagittarius," or "nu2sgr" (new 2 saj) for short. Doug, a scientist at Harvard, wrote a program that allows him to calculate exactly how the path of Jupiter will cross in front of the star, as seen from many different telescopes around the world. To make our work easier, Doug makes the map as if the telescope were following Jupiter, so that the star appears to cross behind it. He generates the info, creates maps and star charts, and then puts it on the web. A few days ago, I asked Doug to generate a prediction for the IRTF. Under "Predictions for Specific Locations," you can find the IRTF map he made for me.


Finally, when I get lonely here in the middle of the night, I can surf to my own homepage, and call up a picture of my four cats - Peanut, who now wants to be known as King P'ut, Jessie Lu, and the troublesome twosome: Lucy and Lilah! http://www.tiac.net/users/tjd

Late-breaking update:

The road crews have managed to get almost to the IRTF now. We will be able to go up after dinner, and start setting our instrument up. There is still a lot of work to be done, though, and now it's only 36 hours until Jupiter occults the star! In that time, we have to get our MIT camera installed on the telescope, get the IRTF NSFCAM up and running, focus both instruments, do a lot of calibration work, AND the telescope crew has to clear the telescope dome of snow and ice so that we can open it and move it!

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