Launch Pad #1: WIRO
July 22, 2010
These posts are going to be rather unscientific I fear, which is terribly ironic given I’ve been in science mode for a week. I’m going to post stuff, I’m going to talk about it. My hope is you’ll get a good idea of the kinds of things we were doing for the week, and maybe learn something about space.
Last day first. Saturday night, we went to WIRO, the Wyoming Infrared Observatory, home of a 2.3 meter telescope, about the same primary mirror size as the Hubble. Here’s the thing: it was really hard getting a good picture of the telescope because it’s really big. The pictures I did get, it’s impossible to tell the scale without someone standing next to it. So I’m going to send you to the google image search. Instead of a tube, it’s a big steel framework mounted on a fork (yellow and brown, University of Wyoming colors, natch), holding the large mirrors and instruments and aiming them where astronomers want to look.
Alas, the telescope wasn’t working last week, so we didn’t get to actually look at anything with it. But here’s some things I learned about big telescopes. They’re automated, which not only allows astronomers to move them to different points, but allows them to remain focused on the same object while the Earth rotates. The automation includes the big metal dome over the observatory, which can stay in synch with the telescope. Instead of having an eyepiece to look through like small at-home telescopes do, the telescope focuses the image directly to a CCD imaging camera and to a computer — or to some other instrument like a spectroscope, diffusion grating, infrared detector, etc. The telescope has a couple of computers dedicated to it — one to control the telescope, and one to control the instrument and collect the data.
More about that in a later post.
At WIRO, I learned something about the daily lives of astronomers working at observatories: They usually happen at night.