And then I wrote... A couple of weeks ago (on April 2) I ran an article written for the International Year of Astronomy in 2009. This article also dates from that time; it was written for an "astroblog" set up by some IYA committee or another. No idea where it actually went up, but it's a nice summary of where I was, scientifically, back in 2009...
I’m writing this from the control room of the Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope (VATT) on Mt. Graham, Arizona.
Observing Centaurs, the proto-comets whose orbits cross Neptune, Uranus, and Saturn, is our project for this run; it consists of five minutes of doing nothing while the camera takes an exposure of these small iceballs, followed by a brief flurry of activity when the next picture comes off our CCD camera... a faint smudge moving from image to image across a background of stars and distant galaxies.
Behind me, Bill Romanishin from the University of Oklahoma is inspecting the images coming across the computer screen, while Steve Tegler from Northern Arizona University is keeping himself busy grading papers until the next time we need to tweak the focus or move to another field of stars.
My work here is not so much different from observers around the world on any given night… except that this really isn’t my work at all. My real field of expertise is not Centaurs; or even using a telescope. I am a meteoriticist. My real work takes place in a laboratory five thousand miles away from this Arizona mountaintop, in the Pope’s summer home of Castel Gandolfo, Italy, where the Vatican’s meteorite collection is housed. In that lab I measure the physical properties of those rocks from the asteroid belt – density, porosity, magnetic properties. So why am I at a telescope?
In fact, I started out as a theorist. I wanted to use the physics and chemistry...
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