Have camera, will travel: an epic observing trip (June 2006)

First stop: Siding Spring Observatory, in Coonabarabran, Australia. Not pictured: 70 lbs of portable camera and accessories, my constant carry-on companion on this epic three week journey. I will be stopped at every single airport screening (of which there will eventually be 9).

This is probably the prettiest location I've ever observed at. I am not sure what a pirate telescope observes, though. Perhaps plunderable planets?

This being Australia, there are lots of 'roos. Lots and lots and lots and lots of them. Skittish little guys, at least of people. Not so skittish of cars and highways as they ought to be though.

A lot of hard work is reduced to this one picture, because (a) I was otherwise too busy to take pictures, or (b) I just decided kangaroos are prettier. Anyhow, our portable computer and camera are shown set up next to the telescope, and since the remote connection to the monitor suffered bad interference for unknown reasons, for the first nights I had to stand down in this (cold) area to take data. On the final night (the long-awaited occultation night), I used remote desktop from the warm control room and my laptop, which worked a lot better.

Pictures from the roof of the dome of the 2.3m, after securing the portable GPS.

A rare 12 satellite connection to our GPS.

A few days before our occultation, it got cloudy, in that the mountain was swallowed up by a cloud that seemed content to just stay put. (Do you see a 4m telescope just behind those trees in the right hand picture? I sure don't.) Seeing as how we had a window of 2 minutes on a particular day to make our observations, this was not encouraging.

I took a brief tourist trip to a nearby radio telescope, while it was still cloudy. At right, my own telescope.

And then just in time we were able to open. There was a full moon right by our object, but that turned out not to matter too much. (Except to make for prettier 'scope shots.)

Pluto moves towards the star over the course of a few hours (as taken from screenshots on my laptop).

My first light curve: yes, there was an occultation. I sent my light curve out to the team first, which reassured everyone who had yet to reduce their data (or, indeed, were waiting nervously back in the States for word if it had even been clear).

Back in Sydney, our intrepid undergrad Emily tests the system to make sure that I have a fully working camera system for my next stop. Destination: Chile.

(The long way around.)

At this point, I'd been to Chile twice before, so I was familiar with the mountains and the telescopes we would be using. We had a regular 4 night observing run, with our portable cameras used on the last night for a transit of a planet I am interested in. (Which went off flawlessly.) The last night of our observing run I saw a bright meteor that split in two just above the horizon. (Not pictured, of course. What, you think I had my camera ready? Of course not.)

The my flight was delayed and I got a bonus night in La Serena, the small seaside town that is the base of all trips to Las Campanas observatory.

Some statistics: Total elapsed travel time: 22 days. Number of days spent traveling (in airports, on planes, or in cars): 7 full days. Number of pounds hoisted into overhead bins: 40 lbs. Ostensible nights on the sky: 9. Actual sky nights: 6 1/2. Number of light curves obtained: 2 (plus a lot of other data at Magellan, but for other people). Publications: 1 so far. But stay tuned...

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