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Alex "Sandy" AntunesRSS Feed of this column.

Read more about the strange modern world of a day laborer in astronomy, plus extra space science-y goodness.... Read More »

I gave a talk on my dissertation work.  Several of the more senior scientists were amazed at the bonafide science it contained.  They'd had me pinned as someone who did 'service work'-- programming, project management, all the stuff that enables science for others (them). This is the kiss of death to scientific collaboration.  Once you're marked with the taint of 'service', everyone assumes you're a scientific moron. 

You can tell the difference in how they explain something.  If you're a service person, they give you analogies ("imagine if...").  If they see you as a fellow scientist, they go right to authors and citations so you can read the original paper.

Neither approach is particularly efficient.
We had an exciting two hours back when the STEREO solar telescope satellites were first launched. The first summed image of several hours of first-light data showed a clear distortion in one of the ten SECCHI detectors. Doom! Tragedy! Can we compensate for it?

It was almost like the sky was a bathtub draining to the lower left. All the light warped and bended in that direction. Opinions varied as to the cause... was it a bad CCD, misalignment of the scope, or satellite pointing issue? Was that detector totally FUBARed? Could it be saved!?!?!
I don't drink coffee, and to some degree this has impeded my astronomy career. Coffee is the one social connection even the most isolated theorist engages in. Heck, our wall of 3x3 monitors showing the newest data from our satellites is intentionally built into the coffee room. It is there to spark discussion among the coffee clique.

Don't drink coffee? Fake it with tea. You need a pretense to see your fellow scientists, else you'll be out of the loop.
If it's daytime, why am I as an astronomer even up? But all the other astronomers work days, so dutifully, I'm at work by 9am each day. I code, manage, have meetings. I estimate that I only get 3 minutes of actual astronomical observation in each morning.

That's the time I get to see the fresh data on the 'big wall' at work, right by the coffee pot. After that quick glance, it'd down to work. Technically, I'm an astronomer, but in practice, I'm a modeler whose work enables others to do science. Working days, I feel we've lost our connection to the night skies.

But those three minutes of seeing never-before viewed images of the Sun, they're glorious.