Artie Aardvark Goes to Greenwich

Artie Aardvark told me to stop working so hard on revising my paper to post about his adventures in Greenwich already.  So here you go! 

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What an exciting day- I am in London, and off to see the Royal Observatory in Greenwich!  This might be the most famous observatory in the world because the prime meridian runs through here- the line that all the countries agreed to use when it comes to measuring locations on Earth from East to West.  It’s also the place from where people define Greenwich Mean Time, which is the global standard for time in the world.  It sounds like a really important place to visit! Continue reading

Artie Aardvark Jaunts to Jodrell Bank

 

Last weekend I had my 15 minutes of Internet fame with a front page AMA about astronomy on Reddit.  Exciting times!  So in honor of that I decided to skip ahead and hand the mic off to Artie Aardvark, who’s been bursting to tell us all about his adventures in England a few weeks ago.

If you’re new to this blog, yes, Artie is an aardvark, and my group’s project mascot.  He comes with my on astronomy adventures, as he can explain what he sees far better than I could.  Enjoy!

Today is an exciting day: I am off to Jodrell Bank Observatory in England to see all the radio telescopes!  Jodrell Bank is one of the most important radio observatories in the world, with some of the biggest radio telescopes you can find anywhere.  It is south of Manchester in the country, with a lot of sheep and cows all around.  Look there in the distance- is that a radio telescope?

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Time to turn off cell phones so they don’t interfere with the sensitive radio telescopes- we must be getting close!

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Of course, once we get to the observatory it’s pretty obvious!

This is the Lovell telescope, which is the third biggest steerable radio telescope in the world.  Wow!  The dish is 250 feet across at the top, and they use it for a lot of research things like pulsars, which are the spinning cores of stars that exploded in what is called a supernova.  Astronomers study the neatest things!

Unfortunately I couldn’t see the telescope in action, as it was undergoing maintenance and it was stowed pointing straight up for this.  But I did find a model in the observatory showing just what the telescope would look like if you could see the top part.

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Then I got to work, keeping an eye on some data coming in to the observatory…

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Be careful though not to get too curious and be stuck behind this door in the control center!  This giant door looked like a safe to me, but was actually where a lot of equipment like the computer servers for the observatory are kept.  This is because they give off a lot of radiation in radio frequencies the astronomers are studying, so they have to be kept in a special vault to make sure the signals from them don’t get out.  Jodrell Bank still worries about a lot of things like that- the astronomers are forever complaining that you can’t have a wifi network for example!

(Editor’s note: the SKA office is next door to the observatory building though, and they have wifi. Conclude what you will!)

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Here’s the observatory building from the outside- that “little” radio telescope isn’t all that little at all, as it’s 42 feet across!  Astronomers use it to monitor the Crab Pulsar, which is left over from a supernova explosion about a thousand years ago.  In fact, people all over Earth recorded seeing this explosion as there was a “guest star” in the sky!  The Crab Pulsar gives of all kinds of radiation to this day, and astronomers are studying the system constantly in order to learn more about young pulsars.

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I also went for a walk towards the back of the building and saw radio telescopes everywhere!  This telescope is called Mark II, and was being repainted by workers when I visited. All telescopes have to be painted in England else they’ll rust, and astronomers choose white to reflect as much of the sun as possible from the dish.  Mark II isn’t actually used on its own much like the other telescopes, and instead is usually used with a bunch of other radio telescopes around the world networked together- a trick astronomers use to get more detailed images called interferometry.  Jodrell Bank is a huge center for a place to process all these signals.

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There are all sorts of other telescopes to explore at Jodrell Bank though!  This one looked pretty crazy to me- it’s a test project to have a student telescope for students from the University of Manchester.  It’s hard for me to believe that radio telescopes can look like this, but they were in fact testing it when I visited by listening to radio signals from the sun!

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All told, I had a really fun time visiting Jodrell Bank and seeing what radio astronomers do!  But all too soon it was time to go, and catch a train to London- Yvette promised to take me to the Greenwich Observatory next!  Oh boy!

World’s Longest Zip-Line at Icy Strait Point, Alaska

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“Just think of it like a really long roller coaster,” I advised.  My parents and I were spending the day at Icy Strait Point near the tiny town of Hoonah, Alaska.  It’s a privately owned place and run by native Tlingits in an old cannery area converted for tourism.  There isn’t much to Icy Strait Point (or Hoonah for that matter) except the world’s longest zip-line which towers from the mountain above town.

Now I suspect anyone who’s read this blog over the years knows what happened next, because I am not a woman who can turn down something like a zip-line that is over a mile long (officially it’s 5,330 feet, with a 1,300 foot vertical drop).  But I suppose after years of reading of his daughter’s exploits in various corners my dad felt the urge to join in too, and my mother decided to establish which side of the family the adrenaline junkie stuff comes from by staying at the bottom.

And hey, on the scale of adrenaline-y things to do, it turns out this zip-line isn’t too hard- not like you need to jump into the abyss yourself.  But that didn’t mean my father wasn’t going to have to endure some cheery speculation on maintenance standards in the Alaskan wilderness and the like on the ride up in a refurbished school bus from his daughter.

But anyway, the ride up takes about 45 minutes, and the ride down takes about 90 seconds.  And if a picture is worth a thousand words than who knows what a video makes, so here’s the entire experience!

Altogether not a bad experience at all!  And then we spent the rest of the day wandering around a bit.  It’s certainly a nice corner of the world when you have sunshine to enjoy and sea stars to spot in the water.

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Dispatch from the Yukon

This has nothing to do with my previous post here, but rather was crafted today and thought some of you might enjoy a “real time” update on my adventures in the North!

August 18, year of our lord 2014
Dawson City, Yukon Territory

Dear Log,
I have survived the Wild, as my friend Jack London refers to her, and staked a claim on Bonanza Creek next to where the first gold was discovered. Alas I am not a good gold planner, and will be abandoning my claim to favor my previous life calling.
Nevertheless I am in good spirits, and would declare this expedition as successful and morale high despite the low American bacon rations. Dawson City is a frontier town with every 19th century convenience a body would expect, from wooden sidewalks to false storefronts to a lascivious gambling hall where the can-can is common. The natives, or “Canadians” as they call themselves, are a friendly people even if the men often proudly display missing front teeth in these parts due to a barbaric ritual game on ice popular to show bravery.*
I will hasten to return to Alaska on the morrow by way of the Yukon River and, by grace of Providence, onwards to Anchorage where I will secure passage to the Netherlands in the coming days. I pray my resolve will see me through!

Yours faithfully,
Miss Yvette Cendes

*Ed. note: seriously, I’ve seem ‘em around!

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Misty Fjords National Monument

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First of all, I feel obliged to mention that Misty Fjords National Monument did not live up to its name at all.  This is because we had spectacular blue sky weather that only happens about 5% of the time in the Ketchikan area, so the fjords were not at all misty but I don’t think anyone was complaining! Continue reading

Ketchikan, Alaska

When you wake up with a view like this you know it’s going to be a good day!

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Vancouver

In honor of the first person who is going to point out Vancouver is not a part of Alaska, allow me to explain that I am catching a ship here north (later today). But a shame to not look around here first…

Vancouver honestly strikes me as a generic modern city whose charm lies in how easy it is to escape to the outdoors, be it the beach or the mountains via bike or boat or whatever you like. In my short time there I spent the majority of my time awake either on a bike or at the beach with an old travel buddy, which is a great way to kick start a holiday!

But all too soon it was time to go. The city near wilderness is a nice layover, but the Last Frontier calls…

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