I’m writing this post from the Arecibo Observatory as we prepare for the 2012 Undergraduate ALFALFA Workshop.
The weather is often our nemesis as observational astronomers. At optical telescopes, clouds of any sort can block the photons from your telescope. As low frequency radio astronomers, we don’t have to worry about clouds, or even rain, as the radio waves travel right through them to our telescope. Strong winds and thunderstorms can still impede our observations, forcing the telescope to be stowed away for safe keeping. The weather can be our foe before observations even start if we have to travel to the telescope. The weather at our departure and arrival locations, plus all along the way, can impede our observations by keeping us from the telescope.
We re-experienced this lesson yesterday morning when traveling to the Arecibo Observatory from Upstate New York. The morning we had to leave for the airport there was lake-effect snow falling. For those of you who haven’t had the joy of experiencing lake-effect snow, it is what happens when cold air moves across a warm lake, picks up the moisture, and dumps it as snow on the other side. Being jaded astronomers experienced with bad weather, we left plenty of extra time for driving to the airport. And it was a good thing we did! The snow itself wasn’t too bad, but we discovered that the plowing strategy for the Interstate involves two side-by-side plows going 35 mph. In the end, it took us much longer than normal to get to the airport, but we made it with time to spare. We had the always fun experience of sitting on the plane while it was de-iced and were then off without a hitch. We’re very glad to be in sunny and warm Puerto Rico now!