Thursday, July 31, 2008
What I loved best about my Summer Astronomy Adventure
By C. Zaitz
I only noticed the thin air when I was either walking up a hill or getting excited.
This night I was doing both. A week from when we arrived in Arizona on a ten day “Astronomy Adventure,” a dream finally came true. I was walking up hill to an observatory, excited and breathless, ready to spend five hours shadowing astronomers and telescope operators on their jobs.
On the first night, the two astronomers whom we met were very polite and welcoming to us. My partner and I were very thrilled to be there and a little “starstruck” to be in the big leagues, which may have reassured them that we wouldn’t hamper their work. Our main guide was very talkative and funny, giving us humorous glimpses into what goes on in the dome all night long, and how he keeps himself awake when we hits the “wall” in the wee hours of the morning. The other astronomer, a young grad student, was nice enough to draw me pictures of her research on intermediate Seyfert Galaxies. These are galaxies with extremely bright cores, thought to be gigantic black holes. Her research had to do with figuring out the orientation of these galaxies, since the hot topic in AGNs or Active Galactic Nuclei galaxies is that they may be the one object behind three faces; we’ve seen them as quasars, blazars and Seyferts depending on their orientation.
The astronomers also operated the telescope, and watching them do that was also awe inspiring. Though we didn’t get to look through the instrument ( we had to bite our tongues not to call them “scopes!”) we got an excellent view into what makes a research astronomer tick. I will take that glimpse back into the classroom to enrich the picture I paint about what scientists can do for a career.