To get back home from the IfA I have to walk through the University of Hawai’i at Hilo campus, feeling pretty inconspicuous with my over filled rucksack and a camera bag bumping again my hip. I’d decided to wear my little mermaid pyjama t-shirt (that my Mum and Dad bought me for my 24th birthday!) so my heavy bag wouldn’t rub my shoulders and to protect them from the sun. I got some great looks on that walk home!

I felt pretty confident once I got home that I wasn’t going to let those homesick feelings wash over me again, but exhaustion over took me and I went to bed without making any plans for the next day. I started the morning with some panicking: how was I going to fill the day? I made myself get out of the house and do something and felt so much better for it. I visited down-town Hilo, on my borrowed bike, and spent some time wandering around the shops. I treated myself to some super cool Big Island Running Company tops and then heading to the tsunami museum. The tsunami museum was really interesting but after leaving the building I did have a good long check of the horizon for any usually large waves…

After I got home I had a revelation: I should learn to dive! So I got back on my hike, peddled back to down-town Hilo and signed up for a PADI open water diving course. To celebrate the decision, I finished off the day at Coconut Island for some swimming and chilling, watching the sunset behind Mauna Kea.

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Watching the sunset behind Mauna Kea on Coconut Island.

The next day I went to the IfA to make use of the library to work on my paper revisions. I was just settling into my work when I felt the building shake and heard a lot of clattering from upstairs. My immediate thought was someone had dropped an item of furniture upstairs, like a huge filing cabinet or something, and that the building must be pretty old to shake like! And then I thought… Earthquake? I looked outside, the memories of the tsunami museum still fresh in my mind, but the gardener was still mowing the lawn and appear to be unconcerned, so I stuck with the falling furniture theory. It was only later I discovered it was actually an earthquake! Having always been fascinated with physical geology stuff, I was super excited to have experienced a small, non-consequential earthquake. The earthquake had a magnitude of 4.1  and didn’t cause a tsunami. It occurred on the flanks of the active volcano Kilauea near to a fission and may signal signs of activity to come!

After a productive day I bumped into an IRTF colleague who gave me a lot of insight into the telescope and the instrument I was using. It was really nice, he made me feel really welcome at IfA and gave me loads of useful tips for using the instrument that will come in very handy when writing up my thesis!

The next day it was time to go up the mountain again. It was a lovely sunny drive up and I headed out on a hike as soon as I arrived at Hale Pohaku. After dinner I tried to get some sleep but it was actually too hot in my room, which is a bit usual for the mountain at this time of year! When trying to arrange the combination of sheets and blankets on the bed I managed to create a pretty cool static electricity light show in the dark. It was really awesome, you could see the blue sparks of static electricity jump from my fingers and play over the blankets. This is the only time I appreciated my static charge. I hate electric shocks and you get plenty up here! Because the air is so dry you are more insulated and collect a lot of static charge easily. Down at sea level, where it is a lot more humid, the water in the air conducts electricity away from you, and you don’t build up as much charge… but up here, it’s electric shock central and I’m forever kicking radiator in the hope of painlessly discharging the electricity through my socked foot rather than scaring myself every time my hand touches mental. It’s a constant battle!

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The foreground is grass lit up by lights from hale Pohaku. In the background in the milky way setting behind Mauna Loa. On the right flank of Mauna Loa is a red light from a volcano observatory station and on the left flank of Mauna Loa is the glow from the lava lake of Kilauea, light up the surrounding fog and clouds.

After I got some sleep I woke up at 3am but I was way too sleepy to work, so I went outside and took some photos of the stars. Managed to stay awake until lunch but gave up soon after that and settled in for another restless sleep, my body clock refusing to play ball! I had the standard thing of just as you feel like you’ve fallen asleep the alarm clock is blaring at you. I made some new macros as I completed the cals, making the scan slightly short in the hope of getting more scans in one night of observing.

I was so super sure this time we’d have no rotations problems and confidently told the TO a rotation of 165… only to take a picture of wonky Jupiter! I was so confused and we ended up putting the rotator at 155, the angle we used on previous nights. I couldn’t figure it out, totally illogical. Well anyway, the skies were amazingly clear and I got some great data again. Annoyingly I found a mistake in my macros at the end of the night. Gases in the Earth’s atmosphere also produce emission lines and we call them sky lines. These sky lines get in the way of the data we’re taking from Jupiter, so the trick is to take a frame with only sky in it, and no Jupiter. Then this frame can be taken away from the Jupiter data, to get rid of any sky emission. When it’s really great weather we only take one sky frame at the start and end of the scan. But… in my new macro I’d forgotten to take one at the end. This isn’t the end of the world as at least I have the sky frame at the start of the scan, but I was a bit annoyed at myself for making a stupid mistake. However the brilliant thing about being at altitude is that you can blame literally everything on the altitude! And if you mess up really bad then it’s the combination of tiredness and altitude!

I was super tired after breakfast so I had a nap. After lunch I worked on my paper and ended up staying awake well past dinner time. Since I was up so late I thought I’d might as well go watch the sunset and set off on a small hike up a cinder cone. I ended up being the only person watching the sunset my cinder cone whereas there were masses of tourists on the slight smaller one!

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The cinder cone most popular with tourists.
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Enjoying the sunset with my own cinder cone to myself!

I haven’t been very good at sleeping this time, the 3 nights down 2 nights up routine is a tiring one for sure. Eventually I got some sleep and woke up at 3AM to work on my paper. It’s starting to shape up pretty good! After breakfast I started doing the on-line learning for my dive course. It was surprisingly boring, with a big focus on how to buy the right kit!

I stayed up for lunch and dinner again, and again sleep was hard to come by but it did find me before waking up at 1am. I corrected the macros that I had made the previous day and did the cals and drove up the mountain. I think it was my most successful observing run yet! We knew the rotation, the macros worked, the sky was clear and we had off-axis guiding, it was all great! Off-axis guiding is where the telescope tracks a star close to Jupiter so that we can accurately track Jupiter’s path across the sky during our observations. We can’t track on Jupiter itself because it’s too big and fills up the field of view of the guiding camera. Sometimes the stars close to Jupiter are not bright enough and are outshone by Jupiter’s mighty glow. When this happens we use rates, which is the calculated rate that Jupiter is known to move across the sky, however this isn’t as accurate as the off-axis guiding. That night there were two TO, so I got to drive the car down to Hale Pohaku.

After breakfast and a good nap, I did some present shopping in the visitor center gift shop. I love how much Mauna Kea branded things you can get, it’s awesome! After lunch I headed back down to rainy Hilo.

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