I never thought I’d say this but here I am AGAIN! I’m sat at ~3000m above sea level on Mauna Kea, Hawaii, with no idea what time zone my body is in.

My second telescope proposal was successful and my co-investigators and I were awarded telescope time at the NASA infrared telescope facility (IRTF) as part of the ground based support for the Juno mission. So here I am in Hawaii again, ready to collect more data but this time on a brand new instrument, iSHELL!

Just a quick recap for those who may not have read my previous posts: I’m doing an astronomy PhD and therefore I get to go to Hawaii! 😛

I study Jupiter’s northern lights at the University of Leicester and specifically I study the northern lights in the infrared. This is my third time in Hawaii. The first time I was observing Saturn with my supervisor and my colleague as part of my telescope training. The second time I was here all by myself for 5 weeks observing Jupiter while Juno was on its approach to Jupiter.

An image of Jupiter taken in the infrared wavelengths using the NSF cam which used to be at IRTF until it blew up in a liquid nitrogen related incident (no one was hurt)! The north and south aurora are both visible in this image but the north aurora is better displayed due to the configuration of the Earth and Jupiter relative to each other. This image also shows the disk emission and the H3+ at the equator. Credit: J Connerney for collecting the iamges and T Stallard for processing the image.

You might have heard of Juno – maybe from me being slightly over enthusiastic about it! Its a NASA spacecraft that is currently in orbit around Jupiter. When it was travelling to Jupiter back in February, some of its instruments were busy measuring the solarwind while I was observing Jupiter. The solarwind is continuous stream of charged particles that leave the sun, dragging with them the sun’s magnetic field. I’m currently analysing the data from February to see if any changes in the solarwind, measured by Juno, trigger changes in Jupiter’s northern lights. Well that’s a lie, I’m currently sat at ~3000m up a volcano deciding if its worth napping before or after dinner!

This time I’m here not only to observe Jupiter but to help my colleague, Henrik, observe Uranus! Hopefully there will be plently of puns during observing 🙂 Also there is a brand new instrument at IRTF! This is very exciting because the instrument that I used in February was very much out of date, and this new instrument is going to be great! Thankfully Henrik has already had a go on it and knows how to use it. We’ve got a couple of things to figure out before observing Jupiter but it should be awesome.

There has been a change of plan since I originally submitted the proposal in April and was awarded the time in July. Juno was supposed to enter a 14 day science orbit during the 3rd orbit. However, during testing of the spacescraft’s propulsion system, the helium check values didn’t fire properly. As the Juno team didn’t know the cause of this problem, it was safer to leave Juno in the 53.5 day orbit rather than risk a burn of the main engine and jeopardise the whole mission!

This artist’s rendering shows NASA’s Juno spacecraft making one of its close passes over Jupiter. Credits: NASA.

The original observing plan was to study Jupiter’s northern lights at the same time as the instruments onboard Juno. However now Juno is still in the 53.5 day orbit the timing is off, so my measurements won’t be simultaneous to the infrared imager and spectrometer onboard Juno. Although this is disappointing, all is not lost. I will still be simultaneous with some of the other instruments onboard Juno, even if it is a bit further out than orignally planned. Also it’s quite nice that the pressure is off. Having never used the new instrument before I was nervous that the first time would be such a critical observation. Since the observations aren’t simultaneous with Juno anymore, we can really test the new instrument and try out settings that we wouldn’t have been able to play with otherwise.

So that’s why I’m in Hawaii again. I’m pretty sure this will definitely be my last time here… well at least as a PhD student 😛