As many of you know, I’ll be going to Chile very soon for Astronomy research. A (very) recent turn of events means that I will be making that trip alone. Dr. French needs to have surgery on her left little finger as soon as possible, which turns out to be next Tuesday, with a followup appointment a week later. On Monday, Dr. French will pick me up and bring me to the airport, where I will fly to Atlanta, then Santiago, then La Serena.

I’ll get to La Serena in the early afternoon on Tuesday where a car will be waiting to take me to the Observatory’s offices & hotel in town. I’ll meet up with Dr. Sue Lederer (a friend/colleague of Dr. French’s) that afternoon and we’ll grab dinner somewhere in town. Dr. French tells me the Chilean lifestyle means 8 pm is early for dinner.

On Wednesday, Dr. Lederer and I will get a ride up to the observatory at noon (maybe 1-1.5 hours I think). That night, we’ll look over the shoulder of the person doing the observing to get a little bit of a feel for the equipment.

Thursday will be the start of our run, but I think this is a good time to mention what a typical day will probably end up looking like for us…

  • 12pm-2pm: Lunch is served
  • 1:30pm: When I’ll probably wake up
  • Afternoon: Not really sure, probably some sort of prep for that night
  • Evening: Dinner at some point
  • Darkness: Start observing
  • Some point in the night: “Night lunch” (boxed meal)… I hear it’s basically a sandwich and some sides but not much variety night to night. Dr. French tells me she and Dr. Lederer have found that you can just ask for extras of whatever you like at dinner to be packed up too. I won’t even have to use my stealthy saga-stealing skills!
  • More observing
  • 7am: Bedtime!

Even though Dr. F. won’t be joining us, she can still contribute by putting together observing plans for us, which entails figuring out the best times to see different asteroids, especially which ones will have better visibility earlier or later in our run. Dr. Lederer and I will be in regular contact with her and hoping her recovery goes very well!

Today, Dr. French sat down with me and showed me a little of what I’ll do down in Chile, which is to look at the images as we’re taking them and load up four of them. Our program blinks the images over and over so we’ll actually see the asteroid moving through space! Then we can measure its brightness and start to get a light curve put together. What’s a light curve? I bet you’re so glad I asked! Asteroids tend to be “potato-shaped” as Dr. French likes to say. This means when they spin as they go through space, they reflect different amounts of light back to us (and our telescope!). Since it’s spinning, we get a wave with two maximums and two minimums if we graph the brightness for each time an asteroid makes one revolution. The research we’re doing is to find the period of that rotation.

SO… just repeat our nights of observing for a total of seven nights. Then flip the top of this post upside down to figure out how I get back and bingo, you’ve got things under control.

Everywhere I’ll be (hotel/dormitory at the observatory/dome/cafeteria) has WiFi so I’ll be able to stay in touch much more easily than in Italy.