Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Prime Minister of Norway's Visit

On Tuesday, the telescope needed a cryo-fill and a fridge cycle. That's where we refill the tank of liquid helium and then cycle the fridge to get down to 0.25K. The cryo-fill is always a little nerve-wrecking since if you screw it up, you could literally blow up the telescope--but you'd have to REALLY screw it up. The first one is always the hardest. The next ones should be no problem. Before starting our next observing schedule, we did a star pointing schedule. Now usually, I don't talk about work stuff because it's usually a) really specific and won't mean anything and b) kind of boring but this was kind of a lot of fun. On the telescope, we also have an optical camera that looks at stars so we run a schedule that peaks up on a star and we can see the star on a small tv screen we have. We also pipe the images into our control software so when we look at one of the stars, we open up a picture of it in our software. You then take your mouse and click on the center of the star which makes the telescope move a little bit until the star is in the center of the screen. You then tell the telescope that this is the center and repeat for the next star. You do this for about 7 stars and then rotate the angle of the telescope and do it again. It was kind of like a game. After it gets all the information, it uses this to calculate where the telescope is pointing which we then apply in our analysis software.

It was just neat to really have a hands on experience with the telescope, especially when it was in such a tight feedback loop. I'll have to do this about once a week, so it hopefully will remain fun and not become tedious for a while.

Later on that day, the Prime Minister of Norway, who is visiting to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the first successful expedition to the South Pole by Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, came by the Dark Sector Lab for a tour of our telescope (and the SPT telescope). This is only the 2nd head of state to ever come to the South Pole, so as you can imagine, it's a fairly exciting place to be right now. We could tell that the PM was coming since out in the distance, we saw a bunch of people skiing. Clearly Norwegians. On the way in, all us grad students went downstairs and greeted the guests. So I got to shake the Prime Minister's hand and say "Hello! I'm Jon Kaufman. Welcome to our lab!" We set the lab up with posters and slide-shows showing off all our cool science. Our P.I. from JPL gave a short talk about our science and we toured the PM around. Afterwards, we got some pictures of all of us with the PM. It was really cool to give a science lecture to someone who can actually make decisions to benefit the scientific community. Because of the anniversary, there are about 100 tourists who have flown, driven, and skied in to the Pole. It's a really happening place to be right now. Y'all should come on down.

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