Monday, July 8, 2013

Telescopes and Snakes and Bears, Oh My

This is a real vending machine down the street from my house:

It's always sold out when I think to go and check. One day, I will be surprised.

Anyway, now that I've gotten the important business out of the way:

I am embarrassed at how little I've posted in the past month. I'm sorry. I've had shockingly little time to myself. Here's a scattered run-down -

Week of June 10th: Lisa's graduation in London. I took a lot of pictures, and cried a little during Lisa's speech (she was a hell of an awesome valedictorian!)

This beautiful woman will be living in the maisonette this fall :)
After her speech, I cried a little more, then took lots more pictures and hugged lots of people I haven't spoken to in years and may never see again.

After graduation, my family went out to a very posh afternoon tea at some hotel in the Mayfair area (VERY posh) and ate lots of scones and drank lots of tea. I told the waiter about the special occasion (I inherit this talking-to-strangers thing from my dad) and he brought us a fitting treat:


Week of June 17: Lots of meetings and video conferences. Every summer, the NRAO summer students get 4 hours of time on the VLBA (Very Long Baseline Array) and 2 hours of time on the EVLA (Extended Very Large Array) -- which is a steal, since those facilities are WAY over-subscribed by astronomers. So, we had to do a lot of planning and coordination with the Socorro-based NRAO summer students, in order to select projects.

On Saturday: Walnut Creek Park. Canoeing, kayaking, tanning, swimming, volleyball, frolf / folf / Frisbee Golf / whatever you want to call it. Here's a picture of me fist-bumping someone Elizabeth went to Middle School with (small freakin' world):

I left with a very intense sunglasses tan, as anyone who Skyped me (Rashed, Caitlin, I'm looking at you) can testify. 

On Sunday: Richmond, with three other summer students (Raphael, Diana, Jennifer). Raphael is a big fan of a Southern rock / alternative country band called "Drive-By Truckers", and one of their members was giving a solo show. So, a few of us tagged along. Along the way, we had ridiculously good (and CHEAP!) Ethiopian food, and I've been craving it ever since. The Richmond capitol building is beautiful:

Week of June 24: GREEN BANK TELESCOPE FIELD TRIP!!!!!!!! The Green Bank telescope is where all my data comes from. It's the largest steerable object on land (a parabola ~100m across) and I love it very, very much.

Me hugging the feedhorn that takes my L-band data:

Sunday: an adventure downtown, that I will tell you about by directing you to this post

Week of July 1: 

On Monday: register for the GRE. Infinite sadness.

On Friday: a very moving Public Night at the local observatory. I gave a talk on radio astronomy, then spent about half an hour sitting and talking with a grandma and her little five-year-old grandson. This kid was running around, drawing figures on the whiteboard describing string theory and quasars and accretion disks (hearing a five-year-old say "accretion disk" is really something) and told me about spaghettification. I let his grandma pick my brains for suggestions of resources to feed the kid with: I gave her lists of names (Carl Sagan, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Brian Greene, etc) and TV shows and books and websites. I also gave her my e-mail address, because apparently the kid wants to learn Algebra, and I think I could probably make up a cool Algebra/Astronomy lesson for him. 
It occurs to me that there are very few resources for kids who want to learn things like Algebra but aren't taking an Algebra class at school. I don't know of any "learn Algebra for fun!" books - textbooks don't count. Food for thought.

Saturday-Sunday: an epic hiking/camping adventure, with fellow summer students Raphael, Laiya, and Jennifer. We took a scenic drive there (about an hour and a half) and from the car saw a gigantic black bear and a ton of deer. The only frightening moment was when Raphael turned the key to turn off the car, and it refused to turn off; he ended up getting out, opening the hood, and pulling out a plug. Um.
This is the kid who got up, opened the hood,
and reconfigured some wires in order to fix the windows when they refused to roll down.
And fixed another summer student's sink. So, we all had faith.
We parked south of a mountain called Old Rag, and hiked to a waterfall. Along the way, I got a little too brave and was jumping around on some rocks when I slipped and got my feet very wet. Raphael had an extra pair of shoes in his backpack, so I put those on...unfortunately, they are special fitted water shoes, and Raphael's feet are a lot bigger than mine. So, I looked and felt 1) unstable and 2) ridiculous.

Anyway, despite my silliness, we made it to the waterfall, set up camp, and cooked dinner. We were all set with equipment; Raphael drove to Charlottesville the 2548 miles from Montana with an axe in his back seat, no GPS, a tent, two sleeping bags, a stove, fuel, and everything else one could possibly imagine needing to survive in the wilderness (and more). Laiya and Jennifer found a spot for their tent deeper off the trail and into the woods, but Raphael and I were very keen on pitching our tent next to the waterfall...

After dinner, as the sun was setting, Raphael and I were climbing around the waterfall when we stumbled on a PERFECT place for a tent: NOT rocky, more secluded (that rock I showed you a picture of was literally right on the trail) and sort of tucked above one waterfall and below another. Desperate to pitch the tent before dark, we rock-hopped and clambered back down, took everything apart, and carried it all back up. Raphael was ridiculously fast, and monkeyed his way down and back up in the time it took me to get down and fill my backpack with miscellaneous equipment, but I made it in the end. (It was a little terrifying to climb around there barefoot; some of the rocks were slippery and I had visions of wiping out and splitting my skull open.) 

That night, there were a zillion stars and a zillion fireflies, blinking orange and yellow. We could hear the waterfall gushing all night, and it was really, really spectacular.

Also, I almost forgot to tell you about the snake! Before setting up camp, we decided to hike up to the next waterfall. Pictures en route:

We didn't make it to the next waterfall. I was way up ahead of Raphael and Laiya (Jennifer had stayed behind to watch our stuff) since I was feeling particularly energetic and scampering up the mountain. Suddenly, I saw a ~6-ft thick black snake on the path ahead of me, skidded to a halt, and stood there gaping at it. Raphael caught up, saw me staring, saw the snake, grabbed my arm, said "come on. walk." and pulled me back around the corner. We stopped Laiya, who insisted on peeking around the corner to catch a glimpse of it, and the three of us turned around and went back down to camp. 

Yay, nature!

Anyway, this is kind of weird to admit, but I REALLY need to go to the bathroom, so I'm going to take that as a sign that it's time to wrap this post up (just like the snake was a sign that it was time to stop climbing up the mountain.) In any case, my GRE prep book is calling me.

Love you all, and please post more!


  1. Oh Anna, I always have so much fun reading about your adventures! You look like you are really enjoying Virginia, I am really happy for you :) Both the science and the landscapes (and you) look breathtaking! :)

    p.s. woahh your sister is moving in with LMF!!! :D :D :D

  2. Being a REX chair starts at home, apparently. Nice. -Laura, too lazy to sign in

  3. Middle School, and High School. :]

  4. your summer is soooooo cool!!!!! i'm looking forward to Lisa's menu!!!