Monday, March 16, 2009

Hi, I'm Flat Stanley. Ms. Campbell's Third Grade Class at Havens School in Piedmont sent me on a trip to find out what scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, are working on. Here is my trip report. You can click on any of the pictures to see a bigger version.

This is Steve. Steve is an astronomer. Here he is with me in his office at UC Berkeley. He's working on something that looks quite complicated.

As part of his work he makes amazing pictures of galaxies way out in space. Check this one out! It's a picture Steve took with a big telescope at Lick Observatory near San Jose, of a galaxy called "Minkowski's Object".

Steve also has lots of books that he uses as part of his research. They look hard - I'd better get studying!

Here I am with some of Steve's colleagues at a lunch meeting where they discuss their work. I'm sitting on top of the telephone to make sure I can hear everything.

We're on our way to the airport. We're going to fly to Hawaii to do some research. They have really big telescopes on the Big Island of Hawaii, at the top of a mountain called Mauna Kea.

Here we are arriving at the airport. I'm excited!

Here I am with the pilot of our plane. This looks like an exciting job!

And now we've arrived in Hawaii. It's raining! I thought Hawaii was going to be sunnier. Maybe the sun will come out later. Do you see the funny-looking rocks in the background? That's lava that erupted from a volcano about two hundred years ago!

Here I am with Steve in Hawaii. It's still raining.

We drove up to the place where the astronomers stay. It's called Hale Pohaku, which means "House of Stones" in Hawaiian. It's 9,300 feet above sea level, on the slopes of the volcano Mauna Kea. Here's Steve in one of the offices there, preparing for our trip up to the telescopes at the summit.

I went for a hike with Steve. We climbed all the way up to 12,000 feet. It started to get cold and the air was thin so it was harder to breathe.

Look at all the lava rocks! Can you see me hiding?

This is a picture Steve took of Mauna Kea. If you click on the picture you'll see a bigger version. Can you spot the telescopes at the top? There are two which look like little golf balls. They're called the Keck telescopes, because a man called Mr. Keck donated some money to build them. See how the top of the mountain is white? That's snow! In Hawaii!

Later, we went up right to the top of the mountain. Here are the Keck telescopes from much closer. The telescopes themselves are inside those domes, which open at night so they can see the sky. The other funny-looking telescope is a Japanese one called Subaru.

There was lots of snow at the summit! Here are some more telescopes. The sign reminds us not to drive too fast - we don't want to skid off the side of the mountain!

We're so high up that we're above the clouds. We saw snow nearby and clouds in the distance. I think they look quite similar! It was very cold and windy here so I stayed in Steve's pocket to keep warm. I didn't want to blow away!

Here are some more telescopes at the top of Mauna Kea. The other big mountain in the background is another volcano called Mauna Loa.

This is a cinder cone near the top of Mauna Kea. It's covered in snow. This is how Mauna Kea got its name - it means "White Mountain" in Hawaiian. The cinder cones were formed when the volcano last erupted - thousands of years ago!

This is the telescope we'll be using. It's called the NASA Infra-Red Telescope Facility. I thought that name sounded sillier than Keck and Subaru - don't you? Our telescope is inside that shiny dome.

Here's the telescope. It's big! The telescope mirror is 10 feet across. I thought I might get to look through the telescope, but the astronomers put a camera on the back (that big blue box is part of it) and they look at the pictures on a computer in a warm room nearby. The silver bit at the top of the photo is the inside of the telescope dome.

This window looks from the telescope dome into the control room. Can you spot me?

This is Paul. He's the telescope operator. He helps the astronomers to take pictures of other galaxies (remember the picture Steve showed us in his office in Berkeley?). Tonight we'll be looking at galaxies that are so far away, it took light, traveling at 186,000 miles every second, 3 billion years to reach Earth!!

Here I am with Steve's colleague Eddie. All of these computers look pretty complicated but Eddie knows what he's doing.

Look at all these buttons and dials!

Here's the telescope again, with that big blue camera. Hopefully Steve's better at taking pictures of the sky than he is at taking pictures of me. I'm all out of focus!

If the astronomers get hungry during the night, they can go to the kitchen and make themselves a snack. Can you spot me?

Here's a bag of chips that Steve brought up to the summit. We're at 14,000 feet above sea level, and there's less than two thirds as much air up here. The bag of chips has swelled up because it has air that's at higher pressure inside. It looks like it might be about to burst! I thought I might swell up too and stop being so flat, but I don't have any air inside me so I stayed the same shape. Oh well!

Mmm, more snacks. Have you ever had macadamia nuts? They are grown in Hawaii and they're really tasty. Steve also brought some eye drops because his eyes get dry up at the summit. The air is often really dry up here, because all the rain is falling thousands of feet down below us!

Here's Subaru and the Keck telescopes at night, lit up by the full moon.

We took a drive down into the town of Hilo. Here's another lava flow. This sharp, lumpy lava is called "aa". That means "rough lava" in Hawaiian. I imagine it's the sound you might make if you tried to walk across it. "Aah-aah! Aah-aah!"

Here's a different kind of lava flow, called pahoehoe. That's Hawaiian for "smooth lava".

And here we are at the beach. The beach in Hilo is covered with lots of drift wood.

Hilo is a pretty town with palm trees and parks.

There are some big trees there, like this banyan tree. That's not me standing next to it, that's Steve, and he's six feet tall!

There are also big waterfalls. I wouldn't like to fall in there!

I had a great time with my new friend Steve in Hawaii. Perhaps I'll become an astronomer when I grow up. I'd get to travel to lots of amazing places, meet some great people, and take pictures of galaxies in outer space! Does that sound like fun to you?