After dropping the car off at IfA and walking home, I arrived at the daunting task of what to do over the next couple of days which doesn’t involve walking to the beach. My host had given me the phone number of two German exchange students which were living in the apartment under her house. I hate phoning people but I ended up going to a house party and there were red cups, which is only ever a good thing. The night escalated quite brilliantly. I thought I wouldn’t even last to 9PM, having been awake since 2AM but somehow we powered through until 4AM. There were a lot of international students from the University of Hawai’i at this party, so it was super fun and easy to mingle and fit in.

The next day I was exhausted, beers aside, my body was extremely confused about it’s time zone. A combination of the above and the house being really quiet made me feel really homesick. After phoning my friend and chatting to my mum I felt better. A girl who works for Subaru telescope, who I’d met on the mountain, dropped her bike round for me to borrow for my time in Hawai’i. This was so great of her, and meant no more awful walking next to cars! So I cheered up enough to get to the shop and feed myself some giant couscous. I don’t know what I’d do without VPN, being able to hit up iplayer and watch David Attenborough was a solid 10 out of 10 way to cure homesickness.

On the Sunday I was a bit more proactive… I made my way across the yard to the Germans’ house to watch the super bowl! Unfortunately the super bowl is awful and very boring… the adverts don’t make up for it. But I was definitely grateful for the company and it was fun to hang out with the Germans.

Monday soon came around and it was mountain time again. Before I headed up, I called back home as it was my Granda’s 90th birthday. What a hero! Got to hear all about the accordion player and the magician at his party, apparently the best party the residential home had seen! Even though I missed out, he says we’ll have another party when I’m home. To be fair, extended birthdays are the best, especially when you’re 90!

Chatting to my Nana and Granda on Granda’s 90th Birthday!!

Driving up the mountain was lush. I didn’t get lost, the sun was shining, I could see the telescopes sparkling at top of Mauna Kea and I could comfort myself in watching the huge queues of cars traipsing down the hill after the obedient tourists obeying the speed limit, just like I did!

Mauna Kea and her telescope friends, with an old lava field in the foreground. Just ignore the electricity lines and this would be a great photo!

Once up at Hale Pohaku I did my tradition of a cinder cone hike before dinner. As this was my acclimatisation night, I had to make myself get up at 2am, which isn’t fun but I had an RSPP (my research group back in Leicester: Radio and Space Plasma Physics) Skype date to attend! It was really awesome to speak to everyone back in Leicester and Katie who was in Svalbard. #RSPP4lyf

Skyping with my RSPP buddies 🙂

I had my 3:30am breakfast with a telescope operator who was also on his acclimation night. We had a great discussion about remote observing versus being on the mountain. Before I came out here many people asked whether or not I could do the observations remotely. The short answer is yes. I’ve done some observation remotely before and they weren’t so bad, so it is entirely possible that I could have just sat in Leicester to do the observations. But now that I’m here I’m glad I’m not doing it remotely, and no just because it’s easier to work on your tan in Hawai’i than Leicester but because of all the people you meet and greater depth of understanding of the data. The telescope operator thought it was important to come out at least once so the telescope doesn’t seem like a magical box that produces data. It’s good to take the mystery out of it all. To actually stand underneath the telescope and watch the instruments get switched and see how the rotator is changed with a spanner. More telescopes are turning remote; even the telescope operators can be remote on some telescopes now! This is no bad thing and is obviously very convenient for those who cannot fly out. But getting to observe is the most fun part of astronomy! The telescope operator said he hoped that there wouldn’t come a time where future generations don’t get to visit the telescopes and I agree. Getting the opportunity to physically experience collecting the data for myself, has taught me a lot more than when I remotely observed or even when I was here learning how to use the telescope with my supervisor last April.

Anyway, that was all a bit too deep for 4am in the morning so I moved onto some more light hearted changes to my paper before going on a sunrise walk. It turned into a sunrise run as I realised I was going to miss it! I ended up missing it anyway and just feeling sick from my tiny exertion at altitude!

The sunrise really brings out the red hue of the volcanic rocks. In the background you can see my favourite cinder cone on the right, with a foreground of volcanic bombs.

After breakfast I decided to go on a longer hike so naturally cracked out the deodorant. I made a rookie mistake. I took roll-on deodorant up to altitude. Do you know what happens when you do this?… IT EXPLODES! A classic altitude mistake, but hey, after that my room smelt fresh!

From left to right: Mauna Loa, me and Hualalai. With a cinder cone/crater in the middle distance which I hiked all around.

I’m sure you’re getting familiar with my mountain life style: lunch time is my dinner time and bed time is mid-afternoon. I woke up with plenty of time but somehow almost lost track of it when I was doing the cals. I had 40 minutes to go before I was due to start my observations, which is plenty of time to drive up except I was wasn’t prepared, I hadn’t even been for my pre-leaving-the-house-wee! In the fluster of trying to hurriedly unlock the car in the dark, I managed to set off the alarm! Thankfully at around 3am most people wouldn’t have actually been asleep and would have been at the summit observing…. hopefully!

I made it up safely and on time. Again I had a different telescope operator but everyone had got their heads together and the rotation problem was solved! This saved a lot of time and I was able to get about 4 scans of Jupiter’s aurora. I did have some problems aligning the slit though. To align the slit you first take a slit image to know the position of the slit on the detector array. The detector array is kind of like the thing inside your digital camera. Then you take a picture of Jupiter and you move the telescope around a little bit until the position of the slit is at the pole of Jupiter. It’s a fine art aligning the slit.

The pictures of Jupiter (above) are used to position the slit (below).

I had fantastic weather again. I can’t believe how lucky I’ve been! When I was here last April we didn’t have the best weather, it was cloudy and rainy on the summit. It was also a lot colder and there was snow lying around. Hawai’i is about 20 degrees North of the equator, so it is technically winter right now but there’s no snow up here and even at altitude it’s been feeling pretty tropical. Apparently it was very rainy before Christmas but since January, it hasn’t rained up on the summit. The recent hot and dry weather is great for observing and tanning but it does make you worry a little about the environment…

The telescope operator drove us down and I had breakfast and then a nap. I was pleased to discover that I was to drive my fave car down the mountain! It’s the smallest one of the IRTF fleet and it’s bright green, which naturally makes me super happy! So I was driving down in my favourite bae of a hybrid when I decided to crank the tunes on the radio. It wasn’t until the second verse I realised I was rocking out to some groovy Christian rock! It was a good song. The next one wasn’t so catchy. So I quickly tuned the radio and found some tay tay that I could be proud to blast out through the open windows. I felt very accomplished that day driving back down to sea level.

Me and IRTF1 😀