Today we went on a field trip to the VLA, the MRO, and the poorly named Water Canyon. We’d begun preparing for the trip on Sunday, when we watched Contact, so that we would know the correct pose and props required for visiting the VLA. In the morning, Mathis prepared by putting on his safety orange field trip jacket and his makeshift camelbak, and the rest of us piled into vans and SUVs, and promptly fell asleep (or played mafia, or argued about the ongoing game of Diplomacy).
Once we arrived, we went on a tour of the control room and supercomputer building. The tour ended on a balcony overlooking one arm of the array, which an unnamed student used to throw his ID down into the abyss (which turned out to be an easily accessible maintenance truck). Then we walked over to the closest dish, where we began the crucially important activity of taking our Jodie Foster pictures. After a quick trip to the gift shop, we got back into the vans to go to Water Canyon for lunch. Water Canyon, we had been warned, had no water, which was quickly proven true by the few brave souls who tried to use the “bathrooms” there.
Before heading up to MRO, we were warned extensively about the dangers of bears, dehydration, mountain roads, altitude sickness, and moths. Then we drove up the dusty but scenic road to MRO, where we could see all the way out of the forest into the desert below. At MRO, we got a tour of the control room and attached apartments (with impressively dark shades), while the TAs went on an “extra special VIP tour”. Then we went up three flights of stairs to the telescope itself, which was a struggle at 10000 feet. Inside the dome, we watched the telescope and dome move at their impressive missile-tracking speed, and then climbed up onto the telescope to take endless group photos and selfies in the telescope’s main mirror.
On the way back down the mountain, in the brief time before I fell asleep again, I thought about how much programming I had to do, but also how much we had already learned and accomplished. We’re all making good progress on the code for finding and measuring our asteroids, and my group, Cloudy with a Chance of Asteroids, even had a chance to take “pretty pictures” last night (we chose the Dumbbell Nebula).