Saturday, May 28, 2011

Happy 50th anniversary to my folks


My parents recently celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary.  Quite the accomplishment!  They had a nice get-together with lots of my relatives - aunts, uncles, cousins, et cetera (including some who had been in their wedding party 50 years ago!) - as well as friends and neighbors.  Here's a picture of (L-R) my sister, my nephew, my mom, my dad, my daughter and me.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Pew Pew Pew!

Tonight was the first time that all four adaptive optics lasers on Mauna Kea were scheduled for use at the same time - the established lasers on the Keck II and Gemini North telescopes, as well as the one just entering regular service on the Subaru Telescope and the brand-new one that's just started commissioning on the Keck I telescope.

Unfortunately - and a bit ironically, since they were the only ones to send up an actual outreach person with a camera - Gemini never got the seeing conditions they needed to get their laser on sky, and even if they had, the view of Gemini's building from photographic vantage points along the driveway at Subaru would have been blocked by the terrain.  The Keck twins and Subaru, however, had a pretty decent night, and I managed to come away with a couple photos, courtesy of a bunch of exposing, some adjustment in Photoshop, and the panoramic capabilities of Hugin.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Astronaut Koichi Wakata visits Hilo

Today, astronaut Koichi Wakata from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) visited Mauna Kea and Hilo, on his way from Japan back to training at NASA in Texas.  He was taken to the summit and toured the Subaru Telescope, then stopped by the Subaru Telescope office in Hilo briefly to return some things he had taken with him into space and present our Director with a very nice framed memento showing Japan's Kibo (Hope) laboratory module on the International Space Station, with mission patches and pins and flags that flew in space, shake everyone's hand, and so on.

Then he spent well over an hour in the planetarium of the 'Imiloa Astronomy Center, talking about what it's like to go to space, live there for months, work there, do research there, play there, sleep there, and all kinds of things.  Tons of pictures, lots of video - a really excellent presentation.

We couldn't take photos during the presentation at 'Imiloa, but during Wakata-san's stop at Subaru, I managed to get a chance to ask him about the 2013 mission where he will spend about half a year as the first Japanese commander of the International Space Station - and only its third commander who isn't either from the United States or Russia. He's a really friendly, nice and well-spoken guy.  Viv took some photos of us talking.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

A different kind of shiny toy

I've seen the beam from the Subaru Telescope's adaptive optics laser on several occasions, and those of the Keck II and Gemini North lasers many more times, but today was the first time I had the opportunity to actually see the source of Subaru Telescope's beam.

I accompanied a couple co-workers and a couple students to the laser enclosure in the dome.  After donning a hair net and face mask and taking off my shoes and jacket, I went through an antechamber containing computers, electronics and cooling equipment, and into the laser room.

The laser room, which is kept at a constant temperature (plus or minus 0.1 degree celsius) contains a rather large laser, an optics bench with beam splitters and mirrors, which split each pulse of light into four weaker pulses with different timing, and the optical fiber the beam then passes through to the launch optics on the top of the telescope. 
The Associate Professor in charge of the laser and related optics explained that because optical fibers have trouble with lasers that are too powerful, splitting each pulse into four helps keep the fiber happy, and also keeps the bandwidth of the light narrow.  

An initial beam splitter lets half the light pass through, and sends the other down a long delay loop, delaying that half by 2 or 3 nanoseconds.  A second splitter lets half the light pass through, and sends the other half down a delay loop half as long, delaying that half by half as many nanoseconds.
So 1/4 of the light passes through both beam splitters without delay, 1/4 goes through only the short delay loop and gets the short delay, 1/4 goes through only the long delay loop and gets the long delay, and 1/4 goes through both delay loops and gets the short delay plus the long delay.

Lasering despite the clouds...

It took half the night for the weather to really get to the point where Subaru Telescope's laser could get on-sky.  And even then, there were clouds blowing by, humidity fluctuating wildly, ice on the parking lot and driveway...

Maybe it was worth the wait, though.  I'm sure the astronomers think so.

A Change to My Flight Itinerary... or not.

In the near future, my parents are celebrating a milestone anniversary, so I've booked flights to go see them.  Of course, sometimes things change on the airlines, so I wasn't terribly surprised to get email from Orbitz notifying me of a change to my itinerary.

I skimmed the new and previous itineraries, and confirmed that the only change in flight times was... well, there wasn't a change in flight times.  Odd.

So I cut-and-pasted the itineraries into files, and asked my computer to point out the lines that were different.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Wait a minute - am I reading Mad magazine?

 The Associated Press reveals:

Shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, detainees in the CIA's secret prison network told interrogators about an important courier with the nom de guerre Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti who was close to bin Laden.
It took years of work before the CIA identified the courier's real name: Sheikh Abu Ahmed, a Pakistani man born in Kuwait.
There's a shocker for you – "Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti" is Abu Ahmed from Kuwait.  And it only took years of work to sort that out.  I can't decide which is worse – al-Qaida's inability to come up with decent fake names, or the CIA's inability to figure out who someone is when al-Qaida essentially tells them his name and where he's from.

Even the "Spy vs. Spy" cartoon in Mad Magazine isn't this silly.

Why I'm leaving Twitter.

I've stuck it out and continued participating on Twitter while Elon Musk has run it into the ground, made it progressively more inhospit...