This observing semester had a brutal start as I had to get up at 4:45 am after the wedding of one of my Ph.D. pals!

It wasn’t all bad news though, I did get to use my new observing note pad!!

The observations were of Saturn and they were for my supervisor, Tom. His observing campaign involves taking infrared data of Saturn at the same time as Cassini, which, at the time of these observations, only had 1 month left of the mission! Tom couldn’t do these observations himself because he was busy observing Saturn at the Keck Telescope, which is also on Mauna Kea – so we got all of the data!!

So because of the amazing but exhausting wedding weekend, my brain hadn’t exactly woken up by 5 am and I managed to take calibrations of the instrument’s mirror! This is not very helpful at all – basically, I’d forgotten to set the instrument up properly and also I’d used the complete wrong wavelength. I only realised this after we got to the star to take some data which would be used later to correct the intensity of the Saturn data. Thankfully the calibrations only take about 5 minutes, so I was able to do them easily at the end after I’d taken data of the star and Saturn. The observations of Saturn went well and the weather stayed perfect, so that’s some more data in the bank for Tom!

My colleague, Henrik, had also gone out to Hawaii but he was going to observe Neptune rather than Saturn. This was another very exciting observing program as Henrik is trying to detect H3+ at Neptune, which no one has ever done before. H3+ has been observed at Jupiter, Saturn, and Uranus and is the charged molecule that creates the majority of the infrared aurora, but there has not yet been a detection at Neptune and no one fully knows why. Henrik has tried to find H3+ at Neptune before and wasn’t successful, but maybe now we have the instrument iSHELL at IRTF, we will be able to detect H3+ at Neptune. I didn’t want to miss out on a chance to observe Neptune so I logged in remotely to watch Henrik observe.

The time difference between the UK and Hawaii worked in my favour, and it transpired that Henrik’s observations of Neptune were during my work hours so I could check out the observations while I worked on my thesis. Neptune looks so tiny compared to Jupiter! Neptune is only a couple of arcseconds big in the sky compared to Jupiter which is tens of arcseconds! Since Neptune is so far away, if there is any H3+ there, the light coming from it may be very faint and so it takes a long time for the instrument to gather the light. Henrik has submitted the results of these observations to an academic journal, so you’ll have to watch this space to see what he found out about Neptune’s atmosphere. In the mean time, we will just have to keep counting those photons!

During the first two days of September, the NASA Infrared Telescope facility saw an H3+ marathon as team H3+ dominated the telescope for about 24 hours of observing.

First up was Uranus, and we observed with our team H3+ members across the pond. Recently Henrik detected the infrared aurora of Uranus, which was the first detection in infrared. These observations provided another opportunity to hunt for the elusive aurora of Uranus.

While we were observing Uranus, we could see a couple of its moons in the images that were being taken by the guiding part of the instrument. My full name is Rosalind, which just so happens to be the name of one of the tiny moons around Uranus. All of the moons around Uranus have names which follow a Shakespearian theme and Rosalind is a character from You Like It. I will have to ask my parents who I am named after, a Shakespearian character or Uranus’ moon… I think we all know which I’d prefer!!

After our observations of Uranus, the telescope was only closed for about 4 hours and then it was my turn to observe Jupiter. I was observing Jupiter during the daytime, which is possible as Jupiter is very bright in the infrared. However, daytime observing, as I learned, is quite tricky. The sky being bright makes observing tasks, such as focusing the telescope, much more difficult. Also, the data quality isn’t as good because the air isn’t as stable as at nighttime; during the day there are thermals and more air currents. We needed to observe in the daytime as this coincided with Juno Perijove number 8. (A perijove being the closest point to Jupiter in the orbit of the NASA spacecraft Juno).

After the telescope operator and support astronomer had focused the telescope, we set out observing Jupiter. I’d planned the observations so that we could observe Jupiter’s southern lights at the same time as Juno was flying through the southern polar magnetic field of Jupiter. First of all, we had to get the telescope guiding on Jupiter so that it wouldn’t drift off as we were trying to take our measurements. We had to try out several different wavelength filters to work out which ones were best with such a bright sky! Eventually, we settled on the 5-micron filter – this wavelength is a bit longer than my favourite H3+ filter but the images will keep my other longer wavelength colleagues happy! The guiding was a bit jumpy but good enough to perform some scans of the southern lights. During the observations, the weather was amazingly clear (and sunny!!), and the telescope operator had to use the shutter of the telescope dome to shield the telescope mirror from the sun! As it was very daytime in Hawaii this meant it was getting quite late over here in the UK. I managed to get some scans of the southern lights and I was happy to see all my shiny lines. Thankfully I was able to hand over to Tom who was out there in Hawaii and up the mountain. After chatting about the plans for the observations, Tom took over and I got to go to bed at about 1:30 am, a lot earlier than 5:30 am which is when the observations would have ended for me (UK time)!

That wasn’t the end of observing for Tom: after he had finished the Jupiter observations he then had to continue for several more hours observing Saturn. The weather was great and so I hope he got some more excellent data of Saturn.

Finally, to end the H3+ stint, we were back to Uranus! James (Tom’s previous Ph.D. student and current post doc at NASA Goddard) had got up very early (Maryland time) to observe Uranus with Henrik, who had won the game of time zones and could enjoy the leisurely hour the observations fell at in British summer time. I enjoyed a lie in, but couldn’t help having a sneaky peak in at Uranus!

As well as embarking on a lot of observing recently I have begun the adventure of writing my thesis. I won’t be observing for the next Juno perijove because the Sun will be too close to Jupiter in the sky. However, I was awarded time to observe the following perijove and so I’ll be back again on the telescope in December! Until then, when you ask me how my writing is going, I’ll probably respond with “it’s going…”!