Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Day 20: K-T Boundary

Hi there, it’s Abby here, and it’s my turn to (finally) blog!

It’s day 20 of our interim trip and we spent our last day before we say goodbye to the beautiful Southwest at Raton, New Mexico.  The drive to Raton from Rehoboth was really long, but we finally reached our destination at about 12:30 in the morning safely. Most of us were asleep during the car ride after dinner but Professor Molnar and Dan managed to watch the coyote star moving slightly across the horizon...something that we’ve been trying to spot for ever since we heard the story of the Navajo constellations at the planetarium at San Juan’s College.

Due to us reaching Raton pretty late, the trade off was that we were at a nicer hotel and we got to sleep in! Something that I’m sure we were very grateful for since we’ve been living like nomads, moving from place to place early in the morning. The other reward was the lovely weather that we had today. It was warm enough (aside from Tucson) that we were able to walk around without having to layer up with jackets and sweaters! After being able to recharge, we left for the K-T boundary Ranton Pass site which was a 15 minute drive away from the hotel we were staying at.

K-T (Cretaceous-Tertiary) boundary is the transition between the Cretaceous and Tertiary periods of geologic time, where is it believed that the mass extinction of many life forms such as dinosaurs took place. Characterized by the presence of high amounts of the element Iridium, which is rare on Earth but common in space debris such as asteroids and meteors, it was believed that the extinction of the dinosaurs was caused by a comet or asteroid from space hitting Earth. The K-T boundary at the Raton Pass site that we saw were the band of sandstone, coal, and, iridium layers. After exploring and taking in the view of Raton from above, we drove to Sugarite Canyon State Park to explore and see more K-T boundary sites.
Coal layer
Iridium layer
A piece that came off when touched gently...they are really brittle. 
The view of Raton from the K-T boundary Raton Pass Site

Sugarite is an abandoned coal mining town. We took a short trek along the mining trail #2, passing by old ruins of the town such as the school and clubhouse, and climbed up the rocks, and frozen waterfall to get to old mining spots which had the beds of coal and K-T boundary claystone and shale. As we descended down however, Dan slipped and fell and injured his wrist. But not to worry too much, the doctor said that it was a minor injury, and it would heal in 4-6 weeks time. But prayers would be appreciated very much! We then spent the rest of the day chilling out and soaking up the last day before we leave in the indoor Jacuzzi pool, followed by  our “last supper” at a Mexican restaurant, as well as a cross cultural engagement sharing of what we have learnt and experienced so far during this trip.

Before: What the Sugarite Schoolhouse looked like
After: What's left of the Schoolhouse
Scaling and climbing the rocks
Where's Waldo? Nope, it's Where's Rick? 
The beautiful clear blue skies of the Southwest that will be greatly missed. 

I can’t believe that this interim is coming to an end...it has definitely been an amazing 20 days exploring the Southwest on this mini road trip. Thanks for being part of this journey, reading our blog posts and keeping us in your prayers! 

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Church, Trenches, and Catch Phrase

Rehoboth CRC

Sunday, our last day in Rehoboth.
Having recently driven from Tuscon AZ to Rehoboth NM (about a 7 hour drive) we were all quite exhausted, and thankfully most of us were able to sleep in this day, as Church started at 10 and we did not have anything planned before then.  Dan and a few others opted to wake up early and get a head start on digging a trench for our weather station we were installing outside our telescope dome, but more about that in a bit.

Rehoboth CRC was the 3rd and last church we were able to visit on our trip.  It is an interesting church, with  a strange dual familiarity to it, as the congregation is both largely Navajo and Dutch.  In this way we interacted with many Navajos as we had previously on our journey, and with many Dutch persons who very well could have teleported from Grand Rapids to Rehoboth that morning.  The sermon topic was rooted in James 2 (inclusion of all people in the Church and other social settings), which fit nicely with our later discussion on the CCE (Cross Cultural Engagement) portion of our class.  After the service we were warmly welcomed in a short announcement (to our surprise and some degree of abashment), and many members came to us in conversation.

16 tons and what do you get

After Church we had a quick lunch, and then split into several working groups.  Some of us stayed to clean up, some went to find petrified wood on a hill nearby, and some went to dig a trench near the telescope dome.  I was in the digging group, along with Michael and Josue.  And I can't say that Dan didn't warn us...

The trench was necessary to house the wires running from the weather station to the dome (as you will see in the pictures), and it did not need to be extremely deep.  However, early on we were convinced we had hit a huge rock, but we soon learned that the "rock" was just frozen dirt, where snow had melted and refroze just below the surface.  We only had one shovel, so we took turns hacking at the ground, mangling up our hands and making slow but measurable progress.  The final trench was about 18 feet long.

Another day older, and deeper in debt.
(Michael Kroeze on left, Josue Diaz on right, my shadow in middle)
I managed to rub the skin off my hands in 4 places (I'll spare you the picture), and the vibrations from the shovel on the frozen ground made our arms ache like none other.  But a couple hours later our efforts were rewarded with a small trench from the dome to the weather pole!  During our digging Professor Molnar had bought some flexible tubing at Home Depot, which we now laid in our sweat and tear filled trench.  (lolnotreallysweatandtears)

Laying out the tubing, telescope dome just out of sight.
(Professor Molnar on left, Michael Kroeze on right)
Getting ready to pull the wire through.  The group that set out to find petrified wood joined us at this point, giving some good moral support and lending a hand.
(Lef to Right: Professor Molnar, Hannah Pagel, Michael Kroeze, and Margeaux Carter)

Physics Doesn't Suck

We contemplated how to route the wire through the tube, and not finding any obviously easy way Molnar started pushing it from his end, from high to low, with 3 AA batteries taped to the end to give it a bit of weight.  This pushing approach worked, with the help of us rattling the tube, for about half the length, but at some point it refused to go further.  Josue and I had previously suggested using the small vacuum in the dome to help it along on the receiving end, and so we tried this strategy.  To our surprise it actually worked, and with the help of everyone keeping the tube straight and rattling it around we managed (barely) to feed the wire all the way through! (about 25 feet of tube)

Us pulling the wire after we managed to get the end through.
(Dan Van Noord at back, then Margeaux Carter, Hannah Pagel, Michael Croeze, Sam Van Kooten, and Professor Molnar)
We all took note of the famous phrase "Physics Doesn't Suck!", but were very grateful that vacuums work nonetheless.  (When a vacuum is created an item is not "sucked" in, but rather the higher air pressure behind pushes it in)

Dinner with Mike and Gale DeYoung

We had intended to set off to explore some lava tubes about an hour away in the afternoon, but the weather station sapped a bit too much of our time.  We still set out towards the lava tubes, and from the car we could see that the highway was built right over a series of lava flows.  We stopped just off the road to explore a small mound of especially good lava rock specimens, and the highway not being a state park some of us got a couple souvenirs.

After a slight detour on the way back we made it to Mike and Gale DeYoung's house for dinner.  Mike works at Rehoboth Christian School as a Network Administrator, and is our closest human connection with the telescope when we operate it remotely from Calvin.  He and his wife have hosted many people from Calvin over the years, and were glad to have us for dinner, dessert, and Catch Phrase at their house.  We relaxed and enjoyed ourselves, playing Catch Phrase until around 10 pm (feeling a little bad about our overstay).

Back at our guest dorms we quickly went to bed, getting as much sleep as we could, another traveling day ahead of us.

Thanks for reading!
~Rick McWhirter

Friday, January 18, 2013

Reflections on the Mirror Lab

On Friday, January 18, we toured the University of Arizona, seeing some of the astronomy buildings and the optical science building. We stopped in a few graduate student labs to see what they were working on. One student, an astronomy grad student with a geology undergrad background, was studying space weathering (chemical changes in minerals from exposure to cosmic rays and such) in actual samples from an asteroid, retrieved by a Japanese probe, and lunar samples from a few of the Apollo missions. Another student was doing computer models of lasers. We saw a bunch of historical telescopes in the optics building, and while we were looking, Marvin Bolt, a Calvin grad who works at a planetarium in Chicago and is an expert in historical telescopes, happened to walk in just as Professor Molnar was thinking Marvin would really like them. We also saw one of the University's two mirror labs. This one is at the bottom of the optics building and is where they made the mirror for the Discovery Channel Telescope, which we visited earlier in the week.

I didn't take any pictures during the first half of the day, but here's a picture from Lowell on the 14th with Neil Armstrong's signature.

After touring the buildings, we had lunch with Melissa and Jess, two recent Calvin grads doing their graduate studies at U of A, and with Melissa's thesis advisor, Richard Greenberg, whose asteroid papers were central to my summer research two summers ago. I didn't get to talk to him, but I did talk with Melissa about sumer research. She worked with Professor Molnar on the same project that I've been working on, so it was encouraging to hear from someone doing well in grad school with the same background I'll have.

After lunch, we toured the larger mirror lab on campus, under the football stadium. There we saw the progress on one of the many 8-meter mirrors that will form the very large virtual mirror of the Large Magellan Telescope which is being built in Chile's Atacama Desert. The mirror making process takes about a year and involves building a mold, melting glass onto it in a big spinning oven, removing the parts of the mold that stick into the back to leave most of the mirror hollow in a honeycomb grid to reduce weight, grinding and polishing, and laser measuring to ensure smoothness.

On the right is a big mold, and the red ring on the left holds the mirror vertically when they remove the honeycomb mold.

This is the piece that comes down onto the mold to make it a spinning oven.

Here's the bottom of that piece.

This is the grinding and polishing room.
(The man on the left is the tour guide.)

Our guide described the last few mirrors they've made and how each one added a new wrinkle to the process. After the tour, knowing we were from a Christian college, our guide asked us how we integrate our faith with science. He said he wasn't religious but that the question came up occasionally when giving tours, and a few people gave him their takes on the question, which was a neat opportunity.

After seeing the mirror lab, we drove up Mount Lemmon to the Catalina Sky Survey, which Dan will blog about.

Dan's gonna blog about this telescope.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Disney! I mean Kitt Peak!!!

January 17, 2012

Today, we had breakfast at our hostel in Flagstaff, and then went out into our cold cars, looking forward to the sun and warmth that awaited us in Tucson. It was a long drive there, and if you want any details about the car ride, you'll have to check with someone else, because I was asleep the entire time. Anyways, all I know from the car trip is that everyone got incredibly excited when we saw the palm trees and mountains and realized it was over 60 degrees out. My car convinced Prof. Molnar to let us stop for lunch at In-N-Out Burger. We just couldn't come to this part of the country and not eat there. It was delicious and wonderful and it was just so nice out!!

After lunch, we made our way up to Kitt Peak National Observatory. It was absolutely AMAZING!! Here are some fun facts about KPNO:

- KPNO shares the mountain top with the National Solar Observatory
- there are 22 optical telescopes
- there are 2 radio telescopes
- there is a 4m telescope called Mayall  (about the same size as the DCT we saw yesterday)
- there are dorms for "day sleepers"
- it is the world's largest collection of optical telescopes

I decided to hug a cactus near the Kitt Peak entrance....one of my friends who went on this trip back in 09 did the same thing, so I just had to do it too.

On our way to look at the telescopes!!!!

When we got to the top of the mountain, we took a lot of fun pictures! We took a tour of the Mayall Telescope. From the dome, we had an amazing view of the different telescopes on Kitt Peak. Unfortunately, we couldn't go right up next to the telescope like we could at some of the other places, but it was still absolutely amazing to see the telescope! I just couldn't stop smiling.

A model of the 4m Mayall Telescope at Kitt Peak

Our group in front of the dome for the Mayall Telescope.

Same place, but zoomed in so you could actually see the group in front of the GIANT dome!
(L to R: Zach, Michael, Josue, Abby, Hannah, Margeaux, Christian, Sam, Rick, Dan)

We took some fun pictures outside the giant dome and then headed down to see the solar observatory. It was a really long telescope; it had small mirrors compared to the other telescopes we've seen, but it had a very long focal length. They are using it to observe sunspots and the magnetic field of the sun. They also had a cool display in part of that building to show the scales of different stars and planets. There was also a control room for the solar observatory that we could look into. At first, when we saw people working in the control room, we thought it would be kind of weird to work in a place like that, where it almost feels like you're on display. Then, we realized that's how our control room is at Calvin, and it's really not that odd. Unfortunately, we had to leave Kitt Peak by 4, so we couldn't see much more after that, but it was still wonderful to see all the telescopes! The guys said that Kitt Peak was my own version of Disney World. And that's pretty much true....I was so happy to be surrounded by so many astronomical instruments and huge telescopes!!

A panoramic view of so many telescopes, taken from near the Mayall Telescope

How many telescopes can you find in this picture? And these aren't even all of the telescopes on Kitt Peak!

Our group walking underneath the solar telescope

After we moved into our Motel 6 in Tucson, we headed over Melissa and Nathan Dykhuis's house. They both graduated from Calvin and are now at the University of Arizona. We had dinner with them and another Calvin grad (Jess Vriesma) and his wife. We had "Upper Crust Pizza," which all of us enjoyed because it was good food and we thought it was funny because there's a place at Calvin to eat, called "Uppercrust." After dinner, some other people from U of A's Graduate Christian Fellowship came over to play some games. We had a wonderful evening relaxing and learning new games.

We're looking forward to enjoying this beautiful weather some more and seeing U of A tomorrow! 

~ Hannah

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Discovering More Telescopes

Wednesday, January 16, we went to Lowell Observatory's campus on Anderson Mesa. Their original campus on Mars Hill, which we visited Monday, directly overlooks Flagstaff, so as the city grew, the serious astronomy moved ten miles or so away to the mesa. We met up with the group from MIT again and got a tour of the mesa. Our guide showed us two optical telescopes, and we went on the catwalk along the outside of one of the domes.
It's hard to get good pictures of big things in small spaces, but here's a wonky mosaic of the first telescope we saw. 
This is one of the domes at Lowell.
Taking a panorama while walking around the dome's catwalk didn't work perfectly, but this is what we saw around us.
The second telescope's mirror had been recently removed and sent off for resurfacing at the Flagstaff station of the US Naval Observatory (which we visited Monday), which meant we got to see the assembly that holds the mirror so precisely in place. The guide mentioned that the mirror had been dropped on its way to resurfacing and a part of the mirror would no longer reflect light, making my own mishaps in Calvin's observatory seem much less severe.
This is the mirror-holding assembly.
Next we were shown the Navy Precision Optical Interferometer.
The interferometer
This is a virtual telescope made of many small telescopes. Maybe a foot in diameter each, these telescopes are placed hundreds of feet apart along an infrastructure of vacuum pipes. The light from the telescopes is sent through the tubes to the center of the system where it is combined to produce a final image. The trick is that on the way to recombination, all the light from the distant telescopes must travel exactly the same distance to within ten nanometers or so--a fraction of a wavelength--despite coming from telescopes hundreds of meters apart. To do this, light from near telescopes is sent through delay lines--tubes with mirrors at the end--while light from distant telescopes catches up. This gets the path lengths much closer. Then the light from each telescope is sent into more delay lines, where three motors, each with less range but more precision than the last, move a mirror to the exact position needed for each telescope. (We saw one of the nested cart assemblies that the motors move at the Naval Observatory.) This ensures all the light travels the exact same distance, no matter which telescope it came from.

This device gives images with the resolution of a telescope whose mirror's diameter is the same as the distance between the small telescopes, which is much larger that any existing telescope by far. While the interferometer has this resolution, it sacrifices a lot in sensitivity and detail because it collects so little light. Still, they are able to directly measure the sizes and shapes of some stars, which is really impressive. Additionally, the interferometer uses lasers to measure the exact direction each of the mirrors is pointing with incredible precision, allowing it to make extremely precise measurements of stars' positions. The Navy, it turns out, still uses star maps for navigation. This is one example of the interplay between military and scientific goals that we've seen at some of the places we've visited, such as Los Alamos.

After lunch, we went to the Discovery Channel Telescope, about twenty miles further from Flagstaff. One of the staff members brought us up into the dome to show off the telescope. While all the large telescopes we've seen have had skeletal frames rather than a full enclosure like Calvin's telescopes, the Discovery telescope was especially unenclosed and we were able to see the surface of the four-meter-diameter mirror. (Our guide even offered to let us reach out and touch the mirror, as long as we didn't mind him cutting our fingers off.) He rotated the telescope pier, letting us ride on the spinning floor, and pointed the telescope down a bit to give us a better view of the mirror. We were also able to climb to platforms on the edge of the telescope and look down on it. The experience felt much more open than the other telescope tours we've had, like they were really excited to show off every part of this brand-new telescope. (When this trip happened before, four years ago, they saw the mirror being made at the U of A's mirror lab, so it's really new.)

The dome, which isn't quite dome-shaped
On the ground floor looking up at the base of the telescope pier 
The Discovery Channel Telescope
The instrumentation on the bottom
A glimpse of the mirror 
The top of the telescope. (The cone is a closed cover.)
A bunch of wiring mid-way up the side
Once it began getting dark, the coolest part of the day began. Since the telescope is so very new, it's still being tested and calibrated and no real science is going on yet. It also has an eyepiece, unlike almost all large telescopes. This all means that for now, they can let groups like us look through the largest telescope that perhaps we'll ever look through! So they began starting equipment and opening things up so equipment could cool to the outside temperature. (Christian and I got to push the buttons to open the seven garage door-style openings around the dome that let cool air in!) Once it was thoroughly dark, we got to look at Jupiter and the Orion nebula. The telescope can cool off very quickly, but the mountain takes much longer, so the warm mountain with the cool air was driving air currents that, along with the wind, blurred the image, but the view was still fantastic. There was texture in the Orion nebula! We had to stop after seeing these two things to give the telescope back to its operators, and we were just about too cold to continue anyway--lots of people were dancing and singing show tunes to try to keep warm. But it was an amazing, one-of-a-kind experience.
Look, that conical cover is open now!

Reuniting with Friends

Tuesday, Jan. 15

It turns out that there is another group from Calvin in Flagstaff right now! They are staying at another hostel, right down the road from us. We met two of their leaders, Kyle and Rebecca, at the Lowell Observatory last night. So, after a long day at the Grand Canyon, a few of us decided to walk over to the other hostel to visit them. I knew one of my good friends and fellow RA's was on the trip, and I figured I would know some other people. When we got there, not too many people were there, but some of my other van Reken friends were there, and it was great to catch up with them! Most of the people from the trip were at the climbing wall (I would love to head over there and climb!!) and my friend was asleep, but it was wonderful to talk with other Calvin people and hear about their adventures. They are in Flagstaff for a while doing wilderness first responder training, and soon they are heading out to California for rock climbing certification. Hopefully we'll get to see them again soon!

~ Hannah

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Grand Canyon

It was so incredibly beautiful. There were a couple of minutes there where I could not hand the beauty and started to break down a bit.

     Today, January 15th 2013, we all arose bright and early, or should I say, not bright but very early.  Today's main, and nearly only, event was a visit to the Grand Canyon, and, of course, we had to be there before sunrise to catch the amazing sight of the sun rising up over the enormous canyon.  We all arose for a 5:30 AM departure time, and arrived at the canyon around 7:10 AM.  This gave us just enough time to get some breakfast in our bellies and head out to Mather Point Overlook where we watched the sun rise and reveal the strata of the Grand Canyon from top to bottom in warm yellow light. (First light pictured above).
     While this may have been the most stunning portion of the day overall, the canyon had much more to offer.  We traveled by shuttle or car to many different viewpoints, and even took a hike down the Kaibab trail.  Unfortunately, the trail was rather snowy and icy, so we had to turn back fairly early on in the hike.
     There is definite beauty in the pictures we took, however, they are not as beautiful or stunning as the actual landscapes were, as many people before me have said.
     As the day progressed, our pictures became more and more creative.  Below, you can see a picture of our class flying over the canyon. (From left: Zach, Hannah, Rick, Michael, Josue, Dan, Sam, Margeaux, Abby, Christian)


     As I know you know, we simply stood near the edge of the canyon and jumped for the picture.  It was very much fun indeed.  It looks pretty close to the edge, right?  Well, it was.  The picture below was taken looking straight down from where Hannah and I were standing and jumping.

Yay for steep drops!

     We did actually stop at another canyon seen in the picture below, but, of course, we had to help Michael back up onto the ledge since he is so clumsy. (Do not worry, there is another ledge he is standing on which you can not see).

I was back probably 10 feet from the edge and refused to get any closer it was so steep.

     Thank you for your continued reading!