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Getting my white dwarfs in a row

17 Jul 2009, 00:02 UTC
Getting my white dwarfs in a row NASA
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Image Credit: McDonald Observatory

Since returning from last weekend's teacher workshop, I've been working on planning observations with the Hobby-Eberly Telescope, the largest telescope at McDonald Observatory and one of the largest telescopes in the world.

Observing with the Hobby-Eberly Telescope works differently from the way astronomy has been done classically. Instead of going to the telescope and staying up all night taking data, we submit a list of observations we want to do over the web, and those data are taken by a staff astronomer in what we call "queue observing".

In queue observing, all of the requested observations are thrown into a single big list. These observing requests include coordinates of objects, the scientific instrument we want the data taken with, the weather conditions that we need (some observations can be done through thin clouds while others need clear skies; some need steady skies, while others can be done through slightly blurry skies; etc.), and the rankings that a project review committee gave each project. At night, the staff astronomer asks the computer for the next target, and a computer program looks at the current weather and which objects are currently observable, and then it picks the highest-ranked ...

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