This post is by Martha Haynes, just before the 5th annual Undergraduate ALFALFA Team workshop at Arecibo, Jan 15-18, 2012.

The UAT is gearing up for our annual workshop in Arecibo (no problem getting those of us from upstate New York to travel to Puerto Rico in January!). This is the 5th workshop, so things ought to be pretty routine, right?

Well, not really. First of all, every year we have lots of new undergraduate participants and also a few new faculty ones. And, this year, as the ALFALFA main survey observations come to completion, we are starting to gear up for the 2nd phase of observing for ALFALFA: conducting longer observations at the positions of very interesting sources or ones which are just marginally detected. Among the most exciting (to me, at least) are the HI sources that seem to have no optical counterparts and are not near any galaxies at similar redshift. These are the candidate “dark galaxies”: are they real HI detections or were the ALFALFA observations corrupted by (insidious) man-made radio frequency interference (RFI)? We have identified the more egregious or expected RFI, but it can sometimes fool us. So before we get too excited, we will make some short (but still longer than ALFALFA observes a given target — about 40 seconds in total — that’s where the “fast” in ALFALFA comes from) observations with the L-band wide receiver just to confirm that the ALFALFA detection is real. This program requires a different receiver, observing strategy and reduction software, all of which we get to try out during the workshop. So, some of us may not get much sleep. But, I know I’m ready for a little astro-excitement: “A sleepy astronomer is a happy astronomer.” So, let the hunt for dark galaxies begin!

Stay tuned for more once we get assembled in Puerto Rico this weekend.