We're running a membership drive this month – our goal is 150 new members, and it actually seems to be working! – and as a part of it we're including this blatant clickbait series... Besides, it's a chance to tell some of the funny stories that come up during cloudy nights at the VATT!
The old astronomer tells the tale... Telescope operators on Mauna Kea work for a number of nights on the telescope at 15,000 feet, sleeping during the day at a facility several thousand feet down the mountain. They then get time off to go home and visit family.
This systems allows them to stay acclimated to the thin air at the top of the mountain while they are at work, an issue that is obvious to anyone who spends time at altitude. However, thin air isn't the only problem you can encounter while living that much closer to the edge of outer space...
One telescope operator used to keep small plants by his desk in the telescope observing room. He was aware of the thin air and the low humidity that made growing these plants a challenge, but he cared for them carefully, and arranged for a friend to be sure they stayed well watered during the time when he was off the mountain. But in spate of that, the plants did not do well when he wasn't around.
Eventually, he found out what was happening. During the times he was off the mountain, the other telescope operators who kept the plant watered went one step further: they'd take it outside during the day and give it some sunlight. Unfiltered, high sunlight: with all the ultraviolet rays that normally don't make it to sea level. Instant high-altitude sunburn!
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