I’ve managed to survive a whole week in Hawai’i! I’ve had to pretend to be an actual adult ever day so far, which has been overly strenuous for a 24 year old. Before I get into the ins and outs of observing life here in Hawai’i, I wanted to give a little more background to put things in context.
Last night, when I was cooking my dinner, my flatmate asked me why I’m studying Jupiter’s aurora. She thought it was a pretty random and unusual thing to be studying, which I guess it is, but when you’re in the world of academia you don’t often question how weird and niche the things you’re studying are!
During my undergrad at Aberystwyth, studying physics with planetary and space physics, I got to spend one semester of my Master’s in Svalbard, a tiny island way up North inside the Arctic Circle. There’s an international university there where I studied the Northern lights. I had the best time in Svalbard, skiing, hiking and generally playing in the snow, I even got to go dog sledging and kayaked on the freezing fjord! After my time in Svalbard I was really into the aurora and wanted to continue my studies to a PhD level, partly for the love of science and partly for the title of Dr! So I managed to get accepted to study ‘Infrared Observations of Gas Giant Aurora‘ at the University of Leicester. I’m not going to lie, the chance to observe using a telescope on top of Mauna Kea, Hawai’i, was a major draw to my PhD project!
After half a year of reading and trying to get my head around the data I got the opportunity to visit the Mauna Kea Observatories in Hawai’i with my supervisor and a co-worker. The trip was super useful in terms of understanding the data that I was working with and how it is collected. But I also took some holiday time too and travelled all around big island to all kinds of beautiful beaches, saw many turtles and waterfalls, walked around on an active volcano and saw a lake of lava, and even jumped into the sea from a 10m cliff!!
The trip was really great but I wasn’t expecting to come back to Hawai’i any time soon. Even when I was writing the telescope proposal back in October 2015, I wasn’t so sure that it would be accepted since it was my first time writing a proposal and I wasn’t even sure that I wanted it to be accepted. Sure everyone thinks going to Hawai’i is great but I’d asked for several observations spread out over a month, which for me is a long time to go anywhere by yourself.
So when I found out that my proposal was accepted it was very exciting but also terrifying! I’d been given 8 observing sessions of about 3 hours each, spread out over 5 weeks. And when I found out that there was no one else available to come with me the overriding feeling was definitely anxiety. During the time leading up to me leaving, quite a few people got out their tiny violins whenever I voiced concerns, and I knew many people would jump at the chance to go. But many people (and the tiny violinists too I’m sure) understood that I’d been leaving my comfort zone back in England! Even though things seemed scary, I knew it wasn’t an opportunity I wanted to miss and I knew it was something I was capable of doing, it would just take a lot of effort to convince myself I was grown up to do it.