This post is by Rachel Almodovar, Union College ’15

My name is Rachel Almodovar and I am a freshman astronomy major at Union College. For spring break I went to the Observatory of Arecibo with my astronomy professor. It had been a few years since the last time I had been there during my childhood in Puerto Rico! At that
time I was twelve years old and the observatory fascinated me. I said to my mother that I wanted to work in a place like the observatory someday. And well, to my surprise Prof. Koopmann, my astronomy professor, invited me to go there during spring break and I had the amazing opportunity to do radio astronomy observing. In my first two nights of observing, I learned how to use CIMA, which is the program that allows you to control the observing mode and the setup of the receiver and also the spectrometer; I also learned how to type in the log the information of the sources like the local sidereal time, zenith angle, the scan number and the source number; and I also learned how to use IDL to reduce the data obtained from the on and off position 3 min exposures and how to look at the spectrum and tell if it had been a detection or not.

Rachel on the Arecibo platform

In my third night observing, Prof. Koopmann taught me how to do flagging of data from the ALFALFA survey. Flagging became my favorite thing to do while I was in Arecibo. Flagging is the technique where you have to examine the spectrum recorded in different drifts and polarizations for bad data like GPS and radars and flag (mark) bad data. One also looks in the spectrum for the detection of galaxies, and records them in the information of the drift.

Well, overall it was a amazing and remarkable experience where besides learning a lot of techniques on how to do radio observing and going up to the Gregorian dome and seeing how it all functions, I also got the opportunity to meet and share time and experiences with a lot of wonderful people at Arecibo that inspired me in a unique way to keep learning about what I am passionate about, which is and will always be Astronomy. I will never forget such an extraordinary experience.

(Left to right): Rachel '15, Becky, Halley Darling '13 and Lucas Viani '14