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More geeky photographs

Red tower elevation bearingSwinging lab
Left: Red Tower elevation bearing (higher res) Right: The Swinging Lab and an engineer, with Green Tower (and the Cheshire plains) in the background (higher res) CREDIT: Megan

Two more photos from my trip up the Lovell telescope. Wednesday is generally maintenance day, when the telescope is "parked" pointing straight up at the zenith. This is the only time the walkways under the bowl line up with the doorways out of the towers and so is the only time people can really get onto most of the structure.

The photo on the left shows one of two elevation bearings (one is in each of the towers) which move the bowl in the up-down direction. This one is on Red Tower (the other one is known as Green Tower, so labelled because of the colour of the paint on the floor) and is where the Peregrines have been nesting. Luckily for us, they nested in a part of the structure which does not tilt when the telescope moves so they are not disturbed by the telescope's movements. The photo on the right shows one of the engineers who was working up on the telescope inspecting some of the girders for damage (you might be able to see that he is wearing a harness which is securing him to a girder, the telscope is a dangerous place to work, and it's a long way down). To the left of him you can see a small cabin hanging from under the bowl. This is the old Swinging Lab which was used back in the early days by the astronomers when they were making their observations. When the telescope tilts, the lab stays level so that you can work in there no matter where the telescope is pointing on the sky. Now though it is not used and we make our observations from the safety of the control building.

Even after coming here every day for the best part of three years now, the excitement of seeing the telescope still hasn't worn off. I'm not sure it ever will. I can't help but get excited on the rare occasions I actually get to go up.

I know, sad aren't I?

Posted by Megan on Wednesday 31st May 2006 (21:14 UTC) | Add a comment | Permalink

The other great thing about working at a telescope...

...is getting to climb on it occasionally. How's this for a view?

The bowl of the Lovell telescope from the top of the focus tower
The bowl of the Lovell telescope from the top of the focus tower CREDIT: Megan

More to come later.

Posted by Megan on Wednesday 31st May 2006 (11:55 UTC) | Add a comment | Permalink

Comets in the Atlantic?

One of the fun things about working at an observatory is the strange phone calls you get sometimes. When people see something odd in the sky or hear something on the news, they want to ask an astronomer, so they sometimes phone us. Recently, a lady phoned to ask what a bright object in the sky was. Unlike a lot of other people who call, she knew what direction she had been looking, she'd kept watching for long enough to know it was moving with the stars and wasn't an aeroplane and had even looked with binoculars. She was really excited to learn that she had seen Jupiter, and that the four small "stars" she'd seen through the binoculars were actually the moons Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto.

Today I was passed a call from a man who had heard that a French journalist had said that a comet (SW3) was about to land in the Atlantic Ocean and cause a huge tsunami. The comet to which he was referring is 73P, also known as Schwassmann-Wachmann 3. I was a bit puzzled about why he thought it was going to hit the Earth though, especially as there was a NASA press release not so long ago stating that there was no chance that this comet, or any of the pieces, would hit the Earth. It seems this mis-information has come from Eric Julien who apparently received information psychically that an impact from this comet would happen on May 25th 2006, causing a giant tsunami which would wipe out low-lying regions in many countries. He has a website dedicated to this and seems to have put quite a bit of work into it. He claims that his vision has been backed up scientifically, but the information he has on his website just doesn't add up.

If you are worried about this, don't be. The closest any piece of this comet comes to the Earth is about five and a half million miles. That is a long way. The largest piece of the comet passed us at a distance of over seven million miles on May 12th.

Posted by Megan on Thursday 25th May 2006 (15:45 UTC) | Add a comment | Permalink

Comet 73P

As today's weather was pretty good, I made the most of the sunshine and took my work outside for a couple of hours. (The real reason is that I just needed to get away from the noise in the office and be uncontactable for a while, I kept well out of the sun :-) The good weather has continued this evening and, after a spectacular sunset, the sky is still clear. Just now I took the opportunity to have a look for fragment B of comet 73P which is currently disintigrating rapidly as it swings past the Earth towards the Sun. Over the last ten years 73P has become several distinct pieces and during this orbit the breakup has accelerated - the comet is now in over 30 seperate pieces. There have been some superb images of the fragments taken recently (VLT, Hubble), but there is nothing quite like seeing it yourself. Even with my little binoculars, fragment B is easily visible from the front of the house, roughly halfway between Vega and delta Cyg. If you get the chance over the next couple of weeks, go take a look as it might not survive another orbit!

Posted by Megan on Wednesday 10th May 2006 (22:38 UTC) | Add a comment | Permalink

Telescope back in action!

After over a month of downtime due a problem with one of the wheel girders, the Lovell telescope was finally cleared for elevation movement again yesterday afternoon. The telescope has two semi-circular girders which run under the bowl, down to the main diametrical girder underneath. A while ago one of the girders developed a crack which needed some serious work to fix so, for the last few weeks, the telescope has been parked pointing roughtly northwards while engineers from a company who normally repair bridges took out and replaced the damaged section. This is not as daft as it might sound, the telescope was originally designed by an engineer who's speciality was bridges after all. All is well now and the telescope is back in action again.

Today's "crazy paper title of the day" on astro-ph is The Extragalactic Lens VLBI Imaging Survey. I. A Search for the Central Image in the Gravitational Lens PMN J1838-3427 by Edward Boyce (MIT) and colleagues. ELVIS, get it? Seriously, gravitational lensing is pretty cool, and something I find quite interesting having spent some time working on them while I was an undergraduate. One of the things you can do with lens systems (where a nearby galaxy "lenses" the light from a distant quasar by causing the light path to distort as it passes through the gravitational field of the galaxy) is investigate the mass profile of the lensing galaxy, how much mass is contained within a certain radius and how this varies as you move out from the centre, by searching for a central image. The theory of lensing says that you should get an odd number of images of the quasar, with the odd one being nearest to the line of sight through the galaxy. Usually, this central image is demagnified so much that it is undetectable. The detection of this central image can help with modelling the mass profile of the galaxy, but even a non-detection can rule out some models, as in this case.

Meantime, I've been busy with more data analysis than you can shake a stick at. Oh, and playing with my new toy. I aquired a second-hand electric guitar at the weekend a Korean-made telecaster copy. It's pretty old and rather ropey (basically, it's a plank of plywood) but it was going down to the charity shop anyway, and it does work. The sound isn't great and it needs tuning even more often than my old classical, but hey - it works!

Posted by Megan on Tuesday 09th May 2006 (21:01 UTC) | Add a comment | Permalink

Is there anybody in there?

Well, yes. I've been very quiet here recently, for several reasons. Not that there hasn't been exciting stuff going on in the world of astronomy (of course there has, just listen to the Jodcast), I've just been very busy. It is now very much less than six months until my thesis has to be submitted and there is a huge amount of work left to do. Most of the last three months has been taken up with scheduling telescope time and then attempting to analyse the resulting data, which turned out to be a much bigger job than is should have been as there is a lot of interference affecting the observations. There have also been more applications for funding, which always seem to take longer than you think they will.

Earlier in the year I decided that, in order to keep myself sane (alright, stop myself going any more crazy), I would make time do something other than astronomy. So I've taken up some of my old hobbies again. I never took much other than astronomy seriously when I was younger, but I have dragged my 15 year old (classical) guitar out of the garage and been learning some songs (had my first go with an electric guitar and an amp yesterday, think I'm converted - the blues sounds so much better with steel strings!), and an old school friend and I have been heading up to Rope Race every couple of weeks. It's all a lot of fun, but it has been taking up most of what was left of my spare time.

Right, off to sort out a short talk for Macc Astro this evening... been asked to speak at Bolton AS in November as well but I'll worry about that when the thesis is out of the way.

Posted by Megan on Tuesday 02nd May 2006 (10:23 UTC) | 4 Comments | Permalink

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