G e o f f H a i n e s - S t i l e s
PASSPORT TO KNOWLEDGE & the LIVE FROM... specials
Friday November 20
"Sunrise...Sunset" on Kitt Peak
Frank took us down inside the telescope, and explained a huge detector nicknamed
"Babar", the white elephant, which is one of the most powerful instruments to analyze
sunlight in the world. And then-a video crew on the road is merciless!-we would not let
him go until he'd rung a Tibetan bell to help bring those sound waves in the Sun to life.
By then it was sunset... and we set up our cameras to record day's departure from the
mountain. Of course, when you're taping, you're always aware of where the light is coming
from (usually into the eyes of your interviewee, it seems!), and we'd noticed its arc
across the sky all day. But somehow seeing it set on the other side of our mountaintop,
opposite the landmarks we'd come to know so well at dawn, emphasized the round of day and
night that had impressed itself on so many of the cultures which have gone before us.
(We hope the sunset-calendar activities posted online under the TEACHERS' section will
help students gain a similar perspective, as they watch the dramatic changes in the Sun's
position as the seasons pass. Just as its disk is anything but featureless, so careful
observation brings the yearly round to life.) This night, fortunately, sunset preceded
the departure of the cooks, so a fine hot meal completed our productive but quite tiring
Pierce, co-designer of Earth's largest solar telescope, which you can see behind
Branston, one of the youngest observers working for NSO on Kitt Peak
Sunday November 21
Another day, another sunrise-from a different perspective, of course. And then it was
time to rendezvous with one of the youngest observers on the mountain, Detrick Branston.
This was his day to be in charge of the KP Vacuum Tower Telescope, source of a 20-plus
year record of the Sun's magnetic field. Cramped in a tiny elevator, we accompanied him
up to the top-stopping along the way to charge the pistons that would open the
"clamshell" which protects the mirrors at night and in bad weather. Detrick turned out to
be a perfect tour guide for student viewers, explaining the technology and its purposes
in direct and completely understandable language, while tweaking mirrors and filters,
calibrating their position via a laser beam, clearly relishing the responsibility of
being humanity's solar watchman for this day.
another spectacular sunset!
By 10:00 we had our sequence, checked out and drove off down to Tucson, to catch our flight to
San Francisco. Storm clouds were beginning to roll in, but we'd had perfect weather at
Kitt Peak. Which was just as well, since we would not see the Sun for the next 2 days,
except in the astonishing close-up images obtained by the TRACE spacecraft, whose makers
we would meet at Lockheed Martin in Palo Alto. But that's another Journal... for another