I’ve had a busy spring semester of observing but before you get too jealous, this was all done remotely from Leicester and didn’t go off on my jollies to Hawaii again!

First up is Saturn. It was my supervisor’s first time using the new instrument iSHELL which is now in use at the NASA Infrared Telescope Facility (IRTF), Hawaii. Myself and my colleague Henrik showed Tom the ropes which was especially funny for me as Tom is my supervisor. I felt like I’d gone full circle from him teaching me to observe to me showing in the ins and outs of the new instrument! We were all still getting used to iSHELL and when trying out different filters we managed to take a telescope selfie!

As Tom was using a custom wavelength range he wanted to check that the signal to noise was okay, so we had a cheeky peek at Jupiter. Jupiter’s aurora is much brighter than Saturn’s aurora and so it doesn’t take long to collect sufficient signal.

After checking out the settings at Jupiter and getting a cheeky bit of data, we moved over to Saturn. Tom planned these observations so that we could observe Saturn at the same time as Cassini. With the epic 13 years orbiting Saturn coming to an end soon, it is essential we get as much data of Saturn before Cassini’s “Grand Finale” dive into Saturn’s atmosphere on the 15th September this year!

Then perijove 5 came along, the NASA spacecraft Juno’s 5th close pass of Jupiter. The weather happened to be excellent so we got great data, observing the northern aurora while Juno was flying through Jupiter’s magnetic field.

I wasn’t scheduled anymore observing until the next Juno perijove but a surprise opportunity arose and we were able to apply for extra time using iSHELL due to the other instrument at the telescope being temporarily broken. We asked for some amount of time on one night and were awarded several hours on two nights! This bonus time was really excellent as we had great weather and were able to perfect our new scanning technique, retrieving extra data of Jupiter’s northern and southern aurora.

The very next week we had another opportunity to observe Jupiter again for more bonus data with the rest of team H3+. I finally got to meet the stateside H3+ extended family (via Skype), who I’d heard a lot about from Tom and Henrik (all good things I swear…). The weather miraculously behaved again and we got excellent scans of Jupiter’s northern aurora.

Then I was back to Saturn to do a bit more observing for Tom’s program. I’m not going to lie observing Saturn is a little boring. You stick the instrument on one part of the aurora and then integrate for ages. This is because of the low signal-to-noise at Saturn, so it takes a while for the instrument to gather enough light to create useable data. When I observe Jupiter a scan only takes about 20 minutes so you usually have something to every now and again which helps keep you awake, but when I observe Saturn I often nod off waiting to start the integration again!

Finally, perijove 6 came round and turned out to be the most dramatic! First of all due to a misunderstanding the telescope operator didn’t turn up which was highly distressing! I had to phone Hawaii to find out where they were and had *fun* phoning wrong numbers until I figured out how to dial international calls from my office phone…

Then once we got sorted and underway with observing it seemed that the computer programs weren’t all talking to each other properly and there wasn’t anything to be done to fix this! Now I know I literally just complained about how boring it was to observe Saturn but I WISH I’d been observing Saturn then… But no I was observing Jupiter so I had to manually act out the steps in the computer program. I had to align the slit, hit go for a 30-second integration, move the slit and hit go again. I had to remember to keep count as I needed to occasionally move off of Jupiter and take a spectrum of the sky. You may think counting is easy, but I had got up at 3 am to do these observations. This was all very stressful and tedious, not to mention inconvenient…

Despite all the issues I did manage to get several good scans of Jupiter’s northern aurora and the weather was clear. So that’s the end of Semester 2017A and the end to my observing diary! I genuinely never thought when I started making notes in that book, back in spring 2015, that I’d fill it. Writing telescope proposals and observing has genuinely been the best part of my Ph.D. and feel very lucky to have been able to visit Hawaii to observe at IRTF.

My observing story doesn’t end here… Tom still has some Saturn observations over summer that I need to do and also in the autumn semester I will be observing Jupiter during two more Juno perijoves. Let’s see what the future observations bring!