Sunday, August 12, 2012

Anna in the Wildernesses (Frat Boy City VA, Green Bank WV, Socorro NM)

Preview: I find a girl sleeping on my porch, have a bear encounter, image some merging galaxies, and climb on a radio dish.


Anna in Frat Boy City, Virginia

A couple of weeks ago, I finished Skyping Daniel at around 1:30am and decided to go to sleep. While changing into my pajamas, I noticed, with great sadness and distress, that there was a large insect on my ceiling. I watched it for a couple of minutes - it buzzed around the light, before finally overheating (I guess?) and taking a swan dive onto my bed. It crawled around for a bit. I dashed into the kitchen, grabbed a paper plate and a little Tupperware container, caught the bug, and shuffled over to the front door to release it into the wild. By this point, it was around 2:15 (I skipped the part of the story where my housemate was throwing up and I was running around the kitchen manufacturing a throw-up-bin for her.) I opened the door, released the bug, looked up, and came face-to-back-of-head with a girl who was fast asleep on our porch swing, about two feet in front of me.

Cue one of my most socially awkward five minutes, ever.

Me: Um...hi?
Girl: *snores*

I looked around desperately - no one. Nothing, except for the dulcet tones of a frat party happening a couple of blocks away. I figured that's probably where this girl had come from - the beer I could smell supported my hypothesis.

Me: Uh...HELLO!
Girl: *turns over*
Me: Hi. Excuse me? ...hello? ...HI! ...Um, hi, can I help you?
Girl: *snores*
Me: *poke*
Girl: *asleep*
Me: *poke* *poke*
Girl: *asleep*

I gave up and shook her. She stirred.

Girl: Mmmmm...
Me: Hi! Are you okay?
Girl: Yeaaaaah, yeaaaaah...
Me: ...Is there someone I can call for you?
Girl: Nooooooope (she had a vowel elongation problem)
Me: Um, well, I'd really like to call someone for you, since I'm worried about you.
Girl: I sweeeaaaaaar, I don't know where he got that alcohol
Me: .....
Girl: Heh, heh, we are SO fucked.
Me: Um. What? No, I don't think we are.
Girl: haaaaaaaaaaaa
Me: ...Can I call your parents?
Girl: Oh God, NOOOOOOOOO!!!!

Great. With that, I ran out of ideas, and the girl fell back asleep. It seemed like she was in less than ideal condition, and I didn't feel comfortable leaving her on the porch like that, alone - so I called the police. In a few minutes, a police car and a police van (seemed like overkill to me) showed up. Two very nice police officers came up onto the porch, shone a flashlight into the girl's eyes, and got her to sit up. In the end, they got her sober friends to come pick her up. In the meantime, I tried to explain to them what I had been doing out on the porch at 2am with a paper plate, in pajamas and flipflops. I waved the plate in the air and said that I had been rescuing an insect. They didn't look particularly convinced...

Anna in Green Bank, West Virginia

The best place for a radio telescope is The Middle Of Freaking Nowhere, to minimize interference (your cellphone, spark plug, digital camera = the bane of the radio astronomer's existence.) My data, for example, comes from a 110m dish called the Green Bank Telescope (GBT), in Green Bank WV.

Green Bank WV is in a National Dark Zone: you can't bring ANY electronics equipment into that area. Closer to the telescope itself, you can't even drive your car, because of the spark plug; they have a bunch of diesel engines sitting around. It's like a little diesel car graveyard. As you can imagine, you get an awesome view of the sky at night. enticing as that may sound, the last thing any astronomer wants is to have to live at Green Bank. There is nothing to do there, except hike and consume large quantities of alcohol. So, when my friend Trey had to spend a week there, back in July, to point the GBT at some molecular clouds, his roommate Stephen and I decided to pay him a visit and deliver some hand-made truffles. We met up with my friend Kristin, who's working at Green Bank this summer (I can't even imagine what that would be like...) and the three of us were walking across the main site (by the dorms, offices, etc) when an animal bundled across the road and into a field to our right.

Me: ....What was that?
Kristin: A deer.
Me: I really don't think that was a deer.
Kristin: Eh, there are a billion deer around here
Me: That was WAY too big to be a deer.
Me: I'm pretty sure that was a bear.
Stephen: It's possible.
Me: Are there bears here?
Kristin: Yeah...

*pickup truck drives over to us*
Man with AMAZINGLY STRONG SOUTHERN DRAWL: Hey, did y'all see that bear that just went by?
Me, Kristin, Stephen: !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Man with PERSISTENTLY STRONG SOUTHERN DRAWL: Which direction did it go?
Me, Kristin, Stephen: *point*
Man with southern drawl who turns out to be a TOTAL BADASS: Okay, thanks.

He drove off after it. I guess this guy chases bears in a pickup truck. Welcome to West Virginia!

Anna in Socorro, New Mexico

Many of you know that I keep ending up in New Mexico, for a variety of completely unrelated reasons. The summer after my junior year of High School, I did a summer program hosted at New Mexico Tech (in Socorro) called the Summer Science Program. In a nutshell, we had class during the day, with an overarching project of observing and calculating the orbit of a near-earth asteroid. One of our field trips was to the Very Large Array of radio telescopes (hereafter referred to as the VLA) - I had no idea that I would use said telescopes three summers later for a real research project.

The summer after I graduated from High School, I worked at the Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque for seven weeks. I ended up spraining my ankle really badly during an Ultimate Frisbee incident; I spent the last four weeks of my New Mexico stay, and the first two weeks of my freshman year at MIT, on crutches. Even so, my host and I did a bunch of touristing around the state, including a day-long motorcycle trip (SO. MUCH. FUN.) A few pictures from the motorcycle adventure:

The takeaway: New Mexico is one of the most beautiful places on the planet. 

IAP of my freshman year, I spent four weeks on a Navajo reservation (about a two-hour drive from Albuquerque) with Teach For America. A few more New Mexico pictures, because I can't resist:



This summer, I'm based in Charlottesville, but working for the organization that operates the VLA. The summer students got time on the VLA to observe a galaxy merger (and two black holes, but I didn't work on that project). We took a field trip to New Mexico, to work with the summer students there on analyzing the data. We could resolve the two galaxies! It was so cool. We also found a mysterious extra flux source that wasn't in any database...we submitted another proposal, and will be taking another look soon. It would be cool if it were something new. Unfortunately, there's always the possibility that it's just some weird artifact of the way we processed the data. 

This time, when we toured the VLA, we toured as members of the NRAO, and were able to climb up onto the radio dishes and see the receivers.

I'm the one waving. The girl, that is.

The whole summer student crew :)

Hope you all are having awesome summers! I'll be back at LMF on August 26th - see some of you soon, hopefully? 


  1. You are such a fantastic storyteller, Anna! I love that drunk girl's reaction to your offer to call her parents: "Oh God, nooooo!!!" And the total badass guy with the persistent southern drawl was hilarious. :)

  2. THIS BLOG IS AMAZING HAHAHA! I should be doing a Nanomaker lab report, but this is really awesome Anna! Your story telling abilities <3 And the photos are beautiful!

    - Sasha