Greetings from Mission Control

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Well, we’re on night 4 of our run, but it’s our second night of actual observations. I’ve been taking TONS of photos and videos, publicizing some of the process for local schools through work and bombarding social media channels. Photos ahead:

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Me, holding a camera and pretending to know how it works.


The 4.0-m telescope we’ll be using, referenced based on the diameter of its primary mirror, bottom center.

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Dr. French and I ogling at the primary mirror, moments before the cage swept down and crushed our skulls.


One of the many control screens at our disposal. At left, the configuration of the Dark Energy Camera’s 62 detector chips. At right, an indication of sky conditions. The huge size of those circles is a sign of cruddy seeing.


Temperature readouts. The detector’s kept around -100 degrees C. “That’s so cool,” I accidentally exclaimed at 5am last night.


Abstract art. Actually, look at the top left. “Airmass” is how much air we’re looking through. Think to geometry class and 30/60/90 triangles. If we’re looking at an object 30 degrees above the horizon, we’re looking through twice as much air compared with looking directly up. As we followed our target across the sky, you can see how we looked through less air as it rose, then more as it set. Science.


Our fearless leader, David James, keeping us on track via video conference from La Serena.


Might’ve multitasked with a bit of hockey.


You can see the Milky Way over our telescope’s dome. The glow at the right is La Serena in the distance, the glow at the left is the rising moon.


This is moonlight. Pretty wild, light from the Sun, bouncing off the Moon, bouncing off these structures, collected by the camera. Optics are fun. Also, Alpha and Beta Centauri, along with the Southern Cross, labeled for your educative enjoyment.


Star trail hypnosis. It’s going to be big.

And a couple for Julia, former Casa 13 housemate from CTIO REU 2011:


Jumbo! Our go-to source for keeping Casa 13 well-fed.

…and look what I saw on the shelves:


Secreto! Our favorite Malbec from our dinners at Porota’s. We took a taxi over on our first night in Chile, but it seems to be closed. Lots of places boarded up along Avenida del Mar after last year’s tsunami 😦


A gorgeous, cloudy sunset

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It’s cloudy once again tonight… Netflix for a while, and we’ll re-evaluate conditions at midnight!


Clear skies wanted.

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The good news: we’re at Cerro Tololo!
The bad news: we’re not observing yet.


Don’t get me wrong: it’s still beautiful, but clear skies would be much more beautiful.

For now, this monstrous telescope’s dome is staying closed.


So, we’re off to a slow start, but hey, the observing can only improve from here, right [knocks on wood]?

Til next time,

International Status: Acquired

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Dr. French and I made it to Chile, and we’re waiting to meet Bob at the Starbucks en el aeropuerto Arturo Merino Benitez. Astronomers love coffee almost as much as they love telescopes and clear skies.

Speaking of clear skies, after about 15 short spurts of sleep on the 9+ hour flight, check out the view I woke up to out the port window:


#nofilter Look closely – that dot in the sky is the planet Venus, sometimes called “the morning star,” named for the times it’s positioned like this and rises before the Sun. It was neat to see its elongation from the Sun so vertically – in Nashville, it’s at much more of an angle, so it wouldn’t have stood out so distinctly this morning. Those mountaintops along the horizon have me all sorts of excited for the days to come. And it’s a good thing they’re poking up above the clouds today, because when we landed, we saw little more than fog:


Hopefully this will be the last we see of these conditions. Bob just arrived, so it’s time to head to La Serena and game-plan for some observing!

Clear skies,


One week out!



From my first trip: me in front of the 4.0-m Blanco telescope. We’ll be using this beast for 5 nights this time around!

The observing run is almost here! My last visits to Cerro Tololo were as a physics major and hispanic studies minor. Since then, I’ve graduated, worked on a master’s in teaching, and found my way into the planetarium industry. In Chicago and Nashville, I’ve spent the last few years teaching people about the night sky and outer space, a passion ignited under the gorgeous, dark skies above Cerro Tololo.

And with the support of the science center, this trip serves as a teaching experience! I’m sharing classroom activities and updates with local students in Tennessee and Kentucky. Tomorrow I’ll visit six classes, with more to come in the few days that remain before the trip.

Something new and exciting for this trip: I’ll be gathering more video! I’ve been trying to improve my photo/video skills in anticipation for this adventure, so I can share even more of the excitement with everyone back up in the states. With any luck, you’ll get to know me, the observatory, and our research even better!

Send me to Chile… ¡again!


Hey, remember me?

If my math is correct, the last time I wrote an update here was five years and one week ago. Guess what? I’m going back to Chile! Or, voy a devolver a Chile, as I should probably be saying.

T-minus 14 days! This time, I’m taking off from Nashville! I’ll be meeting up with Dr. French in Atlanta, where we’ll begin our journey back to Cerro Tololo via Santiago! You know the name of the game: we’ll be researching Jovian Trojan asteroids, a.k.a. asteroids at the L4 and L5 Lagrangian points in Jupiter’s orbit around the sun, a.k.a. JoTros, according to Lacey, my coworker and abbreviator extraordinaire.

Keep up with this next phase of the Chilean adventure here! I’ll also be posting some videos this time around, and of course I’ll keep you posted!

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!

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