"Neptune Programs, Hawaii, Talking to Kids, Scientists and Cats"

Heidi Hammel - March 1, 1996
Planet Advocate for Neptune

    LHST Preparations continue........

Scientifically, there is one big action item left. We will want to take the images of Neptune and measure things like the latitude and longitude of clouds. To do that, I need to prepare some programs that do "navigation." The programs take the time of the observation, and figure out (1) the precise position of Neptune in the Solar System, (2) the precise position of the Earth in the Solar System, and (3) the precise position of the Hubble Space Telescope around the Earth. The programs then do all the calculations so that when I point to a cloud on Neptune in the picture, the programs tell me automatically the latitude and longitude of the cloud. I already have the parts that do #1 (Neptune) and #2 (Earth) ready, since that is well determined long in advance. But part #3, where the Hubble is in its orbit at the precise time of the observation, is NOT easy to do. To make things even more interesting, the procedure I used to use has been "updated," which is a euphemism for "doesn't work any more." During the next few weeks, I will figuring out how to do this the new way.

I made plane reservations to come to Baltimore for the press conference on 14 March (remember, I live and work up in the Boston area of Massachusetts). I also have to look into getting a cat-sitter for my four cats, since we just found out that my fiance Tim also has a business trip to California right at the same time as the LHST press conference! Their favorite sitter has retired, so we have to find someone new.

My other big science project.........

Most of my time recently has been spent preparing for an observing run. On 6 March 1996, the planet Jupiter is going to cross in front of a very bright star. I have been given time on the NASA Infrared Telescope in Hawaii to watch the starlight fade out as the star is "occulted" by Jupiter. By watching how long the starlight takes to fade as the star disappears behind Jupiter, we can measure the pressure, temperature, and composition of the atmosphere.

Preparing for this event is a lot of work. Another MIT scientist and a graduate student are helping me, but I am the PI (Principal Investigator), which means I have the ultimate responsibility for making the observations happen successfully! We are taking our own instrument out, and it needed some redesign work. I also had to calculate exposure times for the pictures we will be taking. I had to make plane reservations, and fill out forms, and just generally do all kinds of logistical planning. We leave tomorrow! And then the *real* work begins.

Life goes on...........

I also did a lot of traveling during the past few weeks. I gave a talk to a high school in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, and also made a scientific presentation at a meeting in Baltimore, Maryland. I gave a public lecture in Salem, Massachusetts, and ran a astronomy workshop for girls in Syracuse, New York. I spent several days in Irvine, California, at a meeting about the future exploration of the Solar System. I was supposed to go to New York City last week, but (fortunately) that was postponed until next month.

Sometimes I need a break from science, even stuff as fun as using the HST. When I am not at work, I am playing with and caring for the cats (Jessie, Peanut, Lilah, and Lucy). Last night I had to take all four cats to the vet. My fiance was in Texas, so I had to do it by myself. Somehow, once I got the first cat in his carrier, the other three figured out that something funny was going on, and they all disappeared. I found them under the bed in the spare room. It was quite a work-out to capture them one by one and get them into their travel boxes! They were all fine, except Jessie needs a bath, Peanut is too fat, Lilah needs to get her teeth brushed, and Lucy had a baaaaad attitude (she's happier now).

In the evenings, I have to do my homework (I am taking German classes several nights a week just for fun). I also like to read magazines and books (mostly romance novels and science fiction books), and I read the newspaper everyday. When the weather is nice, Tim and I go for hikes in the woods, and when Spring really gets here, we will get our bikes out.

Good Neptune News.................

Remember during the Great Planet Debate I mentioned how my last set of observations had failed due to loss of lock of the Space Telescope? Well, I just got a letter today saying that my "HOPR" (Hubble Observation Problem Report") was approved - in other words, they will redo the observations! That's great news! I still don't know exactly when the new data will be retaken, but hopefully it will be sometime soon. The closer to the LHST ones, the better! If we discover any new clouds in the LHST images, we will be able to track them in the new data and get a better idea of their rotation periods.

Last but not least..............

My Neptune collaborator, Dr. Wes Lockwood from Lowell Observatory in Arizona, will be coming out to MIT to work with me on the LHST data analysis. He will probably be here for the week after the press conference, so that is when most of the work will be done. We will be trying to write a real scientific paper using the LHST results along with the earlier Neptune data from HST. We will post daily summaries of our work during that week, so you can see how we work and what we work on.

The next journal will come from the summit of Mauna Kea - a 14,000-ft mountain on the Big Island of Hawaii!

Back to Field Journals Menu Back to Heidi Hammel's Journals Neptune Programs, Hawaii, Talking to Kids,
Scientists and Cats