Fun with airports

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9:20 am
I’m currently sitting in the La Serena airport writing what will be my last post (for La Serena, at least). If my family’s flight from Dallas arrived on time, they probably landed just a couple minutes ago. My 9:40 flight has been delayed and, given there’s no airplane on the tarmac, it may be a while. The gate attendant announced that our plane will arrive at 10:20, so I have time to kill. In true Murphy’s Law form, the WiFi here doesn’t work, so I’m not able to check in on my family’s flight (or communicate with them at all, for that matter).

On the bright side, they accepted my bag without giving any second thoughts to the weight, so it looks like all my things will be making the trip! I’m looking around and it’s refreshing to see how calm everyone here is, even with our delays. As I’m writing this, an attendant just came around and passed out candy to everyone in the boarding area. American Airlines, I hope you’re taking notes.

10:00 am
Now they think the plane will get here at 11:20. A few people left after they announced the delay, so it looks like we only have 15 or 20 people left for our flight. With no WiFi, the only hope to get in touch with my family is to call Julia at the house and have her post on my facebook. In the mean time, I’m working on a poster for a research conference at IWU shortly after I’m back in the states.

10:20 am
Just got a call from my dad… the family is safely in Santiago de Chile! Now, we’ll just have to wait until I can join them there and the vacation can begin. Until then, I’m glad to have a small movie collection on my computer; I’m watching Shaun of the Dead to pass the time.

10:30 am
They just told us the next information announcement would be two hours from now.

12:30 pm
An attendant told me we’d leave at 13:50 at the absolute latest. I’m not getting my hopes up.

1:30 pm
We’re about to board the plane! It’s finally happening! Adios to La Serena, CTIO, and all my friends back on the recinto. Family, here I come!

3:00 pm
Well, the flight was interesting… I take back any comments I made about people taking the news about the delay calmly. As soon as the door to the plane closed, they all started screaming and chanting all sorts of things (which I won’t post here) during the captain’s announcements. One woman verbally attacked a flight attendant just for saying good afternoon to her. But, the flight was quick and we landed smoothly in Santiago. I grabbed my luggage and found my family waiting. Let the vacation begin!

The end of the REU program

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On Thursday, we all gave our presentations in the morning to a group of 20-25 people. All the presentations went well, and the feeling afterward was a little bit like the start of summer at the end of a school year. We got a group together to grab lunch down at Mi Cafe and enjoyed the long-awaited feeling of not needing to get work done! After Ana left, we spent the afternoon being lazy at the house and I made enchiladas for those who remained.

Yesterday, Percy and his wife took me to a sushi restaurant for lunch. Back at the house, some of us were watching Machuca, which I had seen in one of my Spanish classes at IWU, when a bird flew into the house! We keep the back door open to get more air, but apparently we attracted some wildlife as well. Last night, the remaining students all had a end-of-program dinner together with Nicole and Roberto at Donde el Guatón.

Today, Cesar left before I woke up and Gustavo left shortly thereafter. Julia noticed that an animal had come in during the night and helped itself to some leftovers that didn’t make it into the fridge. We also noticed that a bowl that had had some uneaten food in it yesterday was empty… apparently we’re really becoming one with nature! I got some laundry done this morning and joined Percy and his wife at their house for a lunch of ceviche and some other impressive cuisine. Percy and I chatted some more before I headed back to casa 13. When I got back, Brett had moved out, so Julia and I were the only ones left in the house. Julia, Scott, Brett, Owen, and I had one last dinner at Porota’s tonight and came back to the house, where I started to cram all my things into the suitcase for my flight to Santiago tomorrow. There’s no way I’m within the weight limit for the luggage, so I’ll have to either pay up or jettison some of my things before tomorrow’s flight. We’ll see how that goes.

I said goodbye to Owen tonight and made key arrangements; he’ll be moving into my room tomorrow after I’m gone. For tonight, Julia and I are the only ones in the house. It’s too quiet.

My family will arrive tomorrow in Santiago, so the next week should be fun!

Slideshow: Cerro Pachón Field Trip

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On Wednesday, we took a trip to Cerro Pachón to see Gemini South and the SOAR telescope. Here are the photos:

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The trip was great and we enjoyed a great meal at the Cerro Pachón restaurant. Back in La Serena, it was Ana’s last night with us, so we went for dinner at Porota’s. But, as soon as we got back to the house, our focus turned to preparations for our presentations the next day.

Last week of the REU program: bring it on!

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Monday found me back at work and beginning to wrap up the project with Percy. As I worked in the lab in the afternoon, I heard some voices, turned to the door, and saw Sue waiting outside! I hadn’t seen her since last October at the DPS meeting in California, so we briefly caught up and set up plans for dinner later that night.

We planned to go to Porota’s, but quickly found that it was closed, so Sue, Jiri (a student working with her), and I headed down the beach to find another restaurant. We wound up eating at Costa Inca, a Peruvian restaurant. At dinner, Sue pointed out that Jiri and I were coauthors on the abstract for the poster presented last October. He’s from Slovakia, so it was great to have the unexpected chance to meet him. On Tuesday, the three of us grabbed lunch at A La Olla Criolla, a Colombian restaurant near the recinto, before bidding adieu: Sue and Jiri were off to Las Campanas for a few nights before another observing run at Cerro Tololo.

Brett had some of his friends from La Universidad de La Serena over on Tuesday afternoon and Ana made her green rice for dinner. I retired to my room to get to work on my final presentation. I focused and, with a little time, got a solid first draft done.

We took a field trip to Gemini South and SOAR on Wednesday – watch for photos in another post soon!

Just another Sunday… NOT.

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Today was a great day. I wound up selling empanadas and bebidas to participants and spectators after the race. The Cerro Tololo chefs made great empanadas and it was a lot of fun speaking a little bit of Spanish with the people who came up to buy them. Ana, Owen, Julia, Brett, and Gustavo made ice cream with Liquid Nitrogen. In the photo on the left you can see Owen on his knees working with his cream. But that’s not why today was great. What made it great was that I got to participate in the race!

Jump back to Friday night. Right after I wrote my previous post, the gang headed up to casa 17 for a barbecue. I had been using my phone to light up the grill so Kyle could see the chicken when I noticed I had gotten an email. I checked and saw a message from Andrea saying Dan had come up with a way to get two more bikes to the starting line, so Cesar and I could do it! I called Martin before he came to the barbecue and he was able to bring the bike shortly thereafter. I called it a night early so I could get some sleep since I knew I wouldn’t sleep much Saturday night with the race the next day.

Saturday, I headed downtown and grabbed some drink holders to install on Martin’s bike. Ana, Brett, Owen and I went to La Recova for Ana to get gifts before spending the rest of the day laying low and ordering sushi for dinner before I called it a night.

This morning, I woke up at 5:30 to get ready before Andrea and Dan picked Cesar and I up. We got to the starting line before the sun came up and I helped out with a few pre-ride tasks. I felt a little bummed-out that Owen still couldn’t make it because he and I had planned to ride together, but I was also a little nervous not knowing how the upcoming challenge would go.

Any cars going to the summit had to be part of designated convoys/caravans to help regulate traffic. The start of the race was delayed by about an hour and a half because one of the first cars to go up (before the bikes started) drove off the road. Once we started, the first kilometer or so felt great. But a few kilometers later, I felt awful. I felt dizzy, as though continuing might make me lose my breakfast. I took a break for a couple minutes before continuing. The next several kilometers were absolutely brutal, but there was a hydration station along the way. The ladies working there were really encouraging and it was nice to have some unknown Spanish speakers rooting for us.

As I continued, it was hard to distract myself from the seemingly never-ending uphill slope. Juxtaposing this agony with the beauty of the surrounding mountains took a lot away from the scenery. Finally, I reached the top of that stretch and saw an enticing downhill section ahead. I pedaled hard and pretty soon, I was practically flying down the road. I don’t know if I’ve ever had such a rush. Taking the turns was exhilarating and I reached a fast enough speed that the wind actually lifted my helmet off my head. It was awesome. Just past the bottom of that hill was the first finish line… a welcome sight after almost 15 kilometers. I gorged on grapes, water, and watermelon as Cesar arrived and then we continued for the second leg. Everyone said the second leg would be easier, but I couldn’t disagree more. There were no fun downhill sections to look forward to, and even if the overall slope was more gradual, it was always uphill. I continued for a while before the sun, lack of wind, increasing elevation, and loose gravel road finally got to me. I stopped and waited a bit for Andrea to come by and we mutually agreed to call it quits. We waited for the flatbed truck so we could toss our bikes in and then asked if we could ride in the back of the truck. The driver said no, and told us we had to ride in the ambulance behind him. The ambulance driver opened the back door and we saw a couple Chilenos waiting for us. It was my first time in an ambulance, and with the conversations we had while getting to know the Chilenos, I have to say I kind of enjoyed it.

We hopped out at the second finish line and jumped in a car to get to the summit faster. When we arrived, I checked in with the casa 13 folks – Ana brought up some granola bars and a bottle of coke I had sent with her, so those were my first priority. I found Dustin at the summit and showed him and his girlfriend around the 4-m. It’s currently in shut-down mode for renovations to the control room, so we got a peek at the new control setup before going up to the dome. Then, I headed down to the Round Office Building, where I sold some empanadas before the awards ceremony. Even though I didn’t go all the way to the top, I’m really happy with how everything went. The sun was brutal, there was no breeze, and I hadn’t even been on a bike since August, so all things considered, I think it went well. I’ve now got a new t-shirt, button, and medal to remember the experience.

Back at the house, I made some cheese dip and we’re all eating as unhealthily as we can while watching Ladder 49.

How my bad day took a turn for the better


Let’s back up for a minute. When we arrived nine weeks ago at the start of the program, we heard all sorts of talk about an upcoming bike race called Bici-Tololo. As the name might suggest, it’s a race to the Cerro Tololo summit! It will be about 32 km long, but the elevation rises by 1.6 km from the start to the end… this is serious business. The race is finally coming up this Sunday and I’ve been planning to participate: I’ve registered and Andrea has arranged for me to borrow a bike and helmet. And my mom was nice enough to ship my camelbak from home so I don’t pass out from dehydration. I’ve even picked up a good pair of bike shorts and gloves down at the mall. I’ve been eating healthy (or at least healthier) this week and getting good nights of sleep too. Plus, I’m excited because it’s one more trip to the Tololo summit for me before I leave! I’ll have you know that, come Sunday, I’m going to be unstoppable.

Or so I thought. I woke up this morning and found an email waiting in my inbox. I read it and found out that there was no transportation available. There are about 60 riders participating in the race, but they have cars. Not having a car, Owen, Cesar, and I are without a way to get our borrowed bikes to the starting line. It’s a bummer, but it’s understandable and Andrea worked really hard to try and get this taken care of for us. So, instead of putting ourselves through the brutality of the race, we’ve now volunteered to sell empanadas during the festivities at the summit. On the bright side, we’ll still get one more trip up to the picturesque summit. On top of that, we’ll be visiting the Cerro Pachón summit next Wednesday to see the SOAR telescope and for the rest of the students to see Gemini South (where I observed a couple months ago with Percy).

I tried to just focus on the positives to get myself in a better mood. When I went into Percy’s office to work with him this morning, we started to get on a roll. I’ve never worked with IDL before, but I quickly started to appreciate how powerful it is. Things were going well before I took a break for lunch. Then Ana and Owen and I had planned to head out and get a cake and wine to celebrate Julia’s birthday tonight. We were successful and picked up this beauty:

It’s covered in chocolate and has plum jam inside. Oh, and we’re in Chile so of course it has manjar… what’s not to love?

Back at Gemini, I spent the rest of the afternoon powering through data with Percy and working to create a master catalog of our data. Things were going great and we called it quits for the weekend in a great stopping place. So, while I don’t have a grueling bike ride to look forward to, I have other things to appreciate.

Tonight, we’ll be heading to casa 17 for a barbeque, tomorrow I may sit down with Julia and others to show them what I did to combine the images I recently posted, and Sunday I’ll be loving life at the summit. Sounds like a good weekend ahead in my book!

Show and tell: My “pretty pictures”

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I’ve gotten several emails from family and friends since leaving the US asking me to send them any pretty pictures of the sky I get. The REU program is nearing an end, so without further adieu, here they are! The pictures below are all combinations of images taken with multiple exposures in different filters, so getting everything combined into the final images you see here is a creative process. Read more about it in this previous post, which I wrote while we were collecting the data for the following images. The pictures below were taken in B, V, R, and I filters and I used combinations of various exposures (10, 30, 60, 120, and 600 seconds) depending on the target object. One final note: I don’t usually do this, but I’m uploading full-resolution images if you want to download them; I only ask that you let me know if you use them for anything. I had a lot of fun putting them together, so I hope you enjoy them.

Globular Cluster NGC 104

The Orion Nebula

The Horsehead Nebula

The Tarantula Nebula

Spiral Galaxy NGC 1566

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