The universe doesn’t stop for the holidays. Because of that, the telescopes at Kitt Peak National Observatory are trained on the sky almost every clear night. We generally don’t take breaks for the holidays. The exceptions are (usually) Christmas and a few weeks at the height of the annual rainy season for telescope and instrument maintenance.
I am part of a team of half a dozen people who operate the two large telescopes at the observatory. Each of us cycles through a fifteen-night rotation. Basically we have six nights on, six nights off and three “available” nights where we might work on projects, training or help at one of the smaller telescopes at the observatory. We don’t always use all three of those “available” nights, but every now and again it happens.
This week, not only did things work out such that I got to work the holiday, I also had to work much of my “available” time. Unfortunately, this means a long time away from my kids during the holidays. However, it wasn’t all bad, I also got to see a cool new instrument that will be mounted at the WIYN 3.5-meter telescope this summer during the maintenance shutdown period.
The instrument is called the One-Degree Imager or ODI. You can read all about the instrument here: http://www.noao.edu/wiyn/ODI/. The cool thing about ODI is that it will allow us to explore large swaths of the universe in great detail.
Every now and then I’m asked whether I would go into space if the opportunity arose. For me, the answer is absolutely yes. It’s a dream I’ve had since I was a kid watching Apollo astronauts land on the moon. Sadly, I fear I may not have the chance to make such a trip, but it still doesn’t keep me from dreaming or hoping my children or grandchildren would be able to make the trip if they want to. That’s what led me to write The Solar Sea.
You can see a book trailer, read a sample, and find links to buy the book at TheSolarSea.com. In the book, I use my experience looking at the sky through the telescopes at Kitt Peak to imagine a trip through the solar system. I hope you’ll come explore the solar system with me!