Sky and Telescope - March 2016 - 25

ESO / MAX ALEXANDER

ESO / G. HÜDEPOHL (ATACAMAPHOTO.COM)

NIGHT CLASSES Left: One of the 8.2-meter telescopes of the four-scope Very Large Telescope at Paranal, Chile. Right: Telescope
instrument operator Claudia Cid (left) gives data-handling administrator Cecilia Cerón a crash course on how TOs prepare for the
night's observations, while sitting in the Very Large Telescope's control room. Cerón and her colleagues oversee the observatory's
data flow, beginning when the instrument takes an image in Chile and ending when it's delivered to ESO staff in Germany.

Hawai'i would become Aycock's home as he built
his career as a TO: first on Maui to work for NASA's
Lunar Laser Ranging Experiment, and later on the Big
Island with the United Kingdom Infrared Telescope and
Keck Observatory. In the 1990s, Aycock helped astronomers collect the first science data from the new Keck I
telescope, and he also participated in the construction
and commissioning of Keck II. He has now worked as
a TO on Mauna Kea for over 30 years. "Once I found a
place with the Hawai'i astronomical observatories, I was
hooked," he says. "There was no turning back."

Call the Operator
One night while holed up in the control room during
an observing session at Gemini North, Ball heard a
thunderous bang! from the dome floor overhead. The
lights flickered. He hustled up the three flights of stairs
into the dome - where the temperature was approximately −10°°C - and encountered a mini catastrophe: the
2-inch-thick, solid piece of steel that transmitted power
to the dome had snapped in half. Gemini's massive
dome moves azimuthally on a track containing highvoltage power lines, which supply the power to all the
vent gates, dome, shutter, and lights. The connection to
one of those lines had failed, creating a massive arc of
electricity that snapped the steel.
"I was frantically trying to dismantle the assembly so
we could get the dome closed," says Ball. While he was
working, the fog rolled in and a light dusting of snow
and ice started to fall on the dome floor. "I'm standing
there in the dark and fog with a flashlight, frozen-stiff
fingers, numb face, and maneuvering my way around
damaged pieces of this dome track, all the while working
against the clock!"

Luckily, Ball was able to close the mirror cover to preserve the optics during the bad weather. After engineers
guided him by phone in re-arming the power breaker and
resetting the telescope's interlocks, he restored power to
the dome so he could properly close down the telescope.
"The day crew was able to check the system the next day,"
he says, "so we were back to normal operating conditions
as soon as we re-opened the next night."
Such incidents are thankfully rare. Some observing
sessions are relatively easy, such as when there are only
a few, long-exposure targets. But TOs are the first line of
defense when something goes wrong at a telescope.
"We always must be aware and on the alert for any
small problem that might stop operations altogether,"
Aycock says. "No lives will be lost, but an astronomer's
life career could be jeopardized."
In 2009, Ball helped astronomers observe NASA's
Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite
(LCROSS) smash into the Moon. The impact, in which
LCROSS and its Centaur rocket intentionally crashed
into Cabeus Crater at the Moon's south pole, was
designed to eject material that astronomers could study
spectroscopically for signs of water and hydrocarbons.
Preparing for the crash took lots of planning. The TOs
coordinated with astronomers and engineers to figure out
where to point the telescope and which filters to use so
that observers caught the expected flash without saturating the detector. "The fact that it was only going to happen
once and we didn't get any second chances really made it
exciting and challenging - and we pulled it off !"
Sometimes, TOs have to make choices about whether
to proceed with observing or not - regardless of how
unpopular it will make them with the astronomers.
But holding out can have its rewards, too. One night at
Sk yandTelescope.com March 2016

25


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Sky and Telescope - March 2016

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Sky and Telescope - March 2016

Contents
Sky and Telescope - March 2016 - Cover1
Sky and Telescope - March 2016 - Cover2
Sky and Telescope - March 2016 - 1
Sky and Telescope - March 2016 - Contents
Sky and Telescope - March 2016 - 3
Sky and Telescope - March 2016 - A
Sky and Telescope - March 2016 - B
Sky and Telescope - March 2016 - 4
Sky and Telescope - March 2016 - 5
Sky and Telescope - March 2016 - 6
Sky and Telescope - March 2016 - 7
Sky and Telescope - March 2016 - 8
Sky and Telescope - March 2016 - 9
Sky and Telescope - March 2016 - 10
Sky and Telescope - March 2016 - 11
Sky and Telescope - March 2016 - 12
Sky and Telescope - March 2016 - 13
Sky and Telescope - March 2016 - 14
Sky and Telescope - March 2016 - 15
Sky and Telescope - March 2016 - 16
Sky and Telescope - March 2016 - 17
Sky and Telescope - March 2016 - 18
Sky and Telescope - March 2016 - 19
Sky and Telescope - March 2016 - 20
Sky and Telescope - March 2016 - 21
Sky and Telescope - March 2016 - 22
Sky and Telescope - March 2016 - 23
Sky and Telescope - March 2016 - 24
Sky and Telescope - March 2016 - 25
Sky and Telescope - March 2016 - 26
Sky and Telescope - March 2016 - 27
Sky and Telescope - March 2016 - 28
Sky and Telescope - March 2016 - 29
Sky and Telescope - March 2016 - 30
Sky and Telescope - March 2016 - 31
Sky and Telescope - March 2016 - 32
Sky and Telescope - March 2016 - 33
Sky and Telescope - March 2016 - 34
Sky and Telescope - March 2016 - 35
Sky and Telescope - March 2016 - 36
Sky and Telescope - March 2016 - 37
Sky and Telescope - March 2016 - 38
Sky and Telescope - March 2016 - 39
Sky and Telescope - March 2016 - 40
Sky and Telescope - March 2016 - 41
Sky and Telescope - March 2016 - 42
Sky and Telescope - March 2016 - 43
Sky and Telescope - March 2016 - 44
Sky and Telescope - March 2016 - 45
Sky and Telescope - March 2016 - 46
Sky and Telescope - March 2016 - 47
Sky and Telescope - March 2016 - 48
Sky and Telescope - March 2016 - 49
Sky and Telescope - March 2016 - 50
Sky and Telescope - March 2016 - 51
Sky and Telescope - March 2016 - 52
Sky and Telescope - March 2016 - 53
Sky and Telescope - March 2016 - 54
Sky and Telescope - March 2016 - 55
Sky and Telescope - March 2016 - 56
Sky and Telescope - March 2016 - 57
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Sky and Telescope - March 2016 - 76
Sky and Telescope - March 2016 - 77
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Sky and Telescope - March 2016 - 79
Sky and Telescope - March 2016 - 80
Sky and Telescope - March 2016 - 81
Sky and Telescope - March 2016 - 82
Sky and Telescope - March 2016 - 83
Sky and Telescope - March 2016 - 84
Sky and Telescope - March 2016 - Cover3
Sky and Telescope - March 2016 - Cover4
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