The following post is by Martha Haynes.
Last night, Derek Fertig and Jessica O’Connor, graduate students in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at George Mason University, were the A2010 observers, their 3rd night in a row. They were ready to go at 9:15pm …. but alas, the system wasn’t, and immediate ominous messages began appearing in the CIMA message window when they tried to run the calibration script command file for the TOGS program (we do the observing for the TOGS team as well as for ALFALFA). After running through his own quick check, Derek gave me a call, and I quickly logged in from my laptop at home (the only difficulty being the cat sleeping in my lap). After my own quick look at the error messages and the total power monitors — two of which read “nan” (“not a number”…. not a good sign!), I told Derek to contact the telescope operator to alert him that there was clearly a serious hardware problem…. That got an immediate response first from Arun, who was able to isolate the problem to one of the WAPPs, and then from Luis, who rushed in from home to diagnose and fix the problem (issue was a bad filter overloading a power supply). Derek and Jessica were able to restart observing at 11pm and had a successful completion of the rest of the night.
The ALFALFA survey is all about team work, not just of us astronomers but also of the technical staff who keep the instrumentation, hardware and software running day after day after day. Muchas gracias to the incredibly committed and expert staff of the Arecibo Observatory for making sure that ALFALFA catches all those photons!