Wednesday, 19 August 2009

A last trip to the telescopes

Last week was spent on one last observing trip to the telescopes. First up was a few days at Narrabri observing with ATCA. I drove up with Vik in one of the work Priuses. I'm not the exactly the biggest fan of the hybrids but they're ok, naturally I'd prefer the usual V6 Commodore which has plenty of grunt. However the box of batteries has enough power to overtake the B-doubles and made it all the way on one tank.

Using ATCA we were observing at millimetre wavelengths over a long baseline. I'm more a of a low-frequency single-dish kinda guy so this was new territory for me. At these frequencies we actually had to worry about the seeing and pointing errors, it's practically optical! Also we were using the brand new CABB system which replaced the old correlator that I was used to. Surprisingly the set-up wasn't too difficult and (with a lot of help from the locals) the observations went smoothly despite the occasional wind-stow.

Sunset over ATCA ATCA

After I'd said goodbye to ATCA I drove off down to Parkes where Ramesh and Jonathon had already started our PPTA observations. I love that drive, there's little traffic, the Warrumbungles are beautiful and there's plenty of long straight bits to overtake on. I did have a near miss when a large section of angle-iron fell off the back of a truck but otherwise it was a relaxing drive.

I arrived at Parkes just in time for the wind to drop and observations restart. They went pretty smoothly and I took the opportunity between scans to turn on the floodlights and take some photos. I also visited the visitor centre several times to stock up on Parkes related merchandise :-). Marta and Maura were there and we had fun recounting Parkes stories in the evenings.

Floodlit dish Bacl of floodlit dish

We also had a PULSE@Parkes run but this was from VSSEC so Rob, George and Jono (as in Jonathan not Jonathon) had gone down to Melbourne to cover it. On this run we had the students tweeting what they were doing. We had several astronomers following and even had a bit of press interest. It seemed to go very well and the kids were very enthusiastic.

Signal near Orange Signal near Orange

It was an uneventful drive back but I stopped to take a photo of an old analogue railway signal sat all on its own by the side of the road. I always look out for it between Bathurst and Orange.

I was a bit sad leaving Parkes for the last time before I move to Germany. But I will be back before too long, counting the minutes until shift change! Still it won't quite be the same.

Monday, 10 August 2009

A Manly Walk

Last weekend George, Vikram, Saikia and I went for a walk in Manly. Like all of George's weekend activities it involved the loss of a precious lie-in so we could catch an early train. From Meadowbank we took the ferry down the river to Circular Quay. It was another beautiful winter's day in Sydney, the wind was cool but the sun was shining.

After my sailing trip on the harbour some time ago I had bought some drugs to try and combat the seasickness. I decided that I'd test them out on this trip under controlled circumstances.

Sydney CBD The ferries at Circular Quay

We got to Circular Quay and had a hearty breakfast of doughnuts and coffee while we waited for the Manly ferry to arrive. The Manly ferry is infamous in Sydney for being a rough ride as you pass the Heads so I decided to take one of the pills.

The crossing wasn't bad and we arrived in Manly in time for fish and chips at Shelly beach. It was then that I discovered a side-affect of the drugs - drowsiness. Despite being midday and sunny I was about to fall asleep!

Vikram on the edge Manly and Shelly beaches

After lunch we went on a leisurely walk around North Head. We had great views of Manly and visited what George calls 'The Hidden Lagoon' but is really a big puddle on the top. Vikram did his best to scare George by trying to fall off the cliff while George spotted a couple of dead cuttlefish that he tried to persuade us were still alive.

The lagoon George and Saikia walk around the lagoon

George wanted to get wet so insisted that we sit up front on the ferry for the crossing back to Sydney. After watching the ferry crashing through the waves I took another pill. There were some decent waves and we all got wet so George was happy.

The Manly ferry Sunset

I managed to get home just in time to become comatose. I'm not sure how good these drugs are at preventing seasickness but they're very good for insomnia!

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Kayaking in Sydney harbour

Today George, Dominic and I went kayaking in Sydney harbour. It was another beautiful winter day, not too warm but sunny. We went from the Spit bridge which is surrounded by little coves full of boats moored at very expensive houses. We were told that there were two types of kayak on offer, one stable but slow and the other fast but "a bit tippy". We all decided that "a bit tippy" was probably a bad idea and chose the slow, stable option.

Dominic on the water George on the water

We made our way under the Spit bridge towards a series of coves. Within minutes Dominic managed to break his rudder peddles but after a brief stop in the middle of the waterway he managed to fix them and we were under way again. We dodged boats large and small and headed towards a little rocky outcrop. There we found a swam of moon jellyfish. They're common in the harbour but still fun to watch. George and I spent some time taking photos of them. George is convinced that he also saw a sea cucumber but I think it was a bit of tree.

Dominic and George Moon jellyfish

As we set off again there was a loud splash as Dominic capsized - totally on his own, no boat or rocks in sight. Apparently he was attempting a sharp turn but just ended up spinning on the wrong axis. Thankfully he appeared moments later laughing his head off with the look of a man who knows that by Monday morning everyone is going to have heard about it. Thankfully it wasn't far to the shore and George and I helpfully took photos while Dominic emptied his kayak.

Dominic capsizes A ray

The next cove we went into had the clearest water. We could see to the bottom and there were occasional schools of fish. I spotted a small ray resting on the bottom. I managed to get a few photos before it raced away.

Dominic was nearly dry again by the time we made it back, his ego may take longer to recover. We finished off our trip with a fish and chip supper before heading home.