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altering my perceptions of astronomers October 8, 2008

Posted by aquillam in Astronomy.
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Last week we were watching a tv show with an astronomer in it. I complained that it was a complete and total distortion of reality.

The astronomer in question was a radio astronomer working alone at the telescope at night. Well, ok, on this occasion, he’d brought his daughter with him. But he normally works alone, at night.
First off, most radio astronomers do not work at night. In fact, if you try to visit the Peach Mountain radio telescope at night, you will find yourself locked out (or worse, locked in if you got there early enough to find the gate open). Most radio telescopes these days are automated, and a blue sky or even clouds are no barrier. Human activity, like cars and microwaves are actually a much bigger problem than the Sun. So why sit up all night when you can observe or program it in the afternoon? And if you really do need someone to be there at night, well, that’s what students and technicians are for! Of course, someone who is working on a pet project with an object currently up at night might in fact go to the observatory in the evening. But that would be the exception, not the normal thing to do!
It also isn’t very often that an astronomer works alone. There are usually technicians, students, and even other astronomers at the observatory. But maybe this was supposed to be such a small observatory that it didn’t have all those extra people.

The thing that really made me complain though were the clothes. I believe my exact words were “You know, I’ve known a lot of astronomers, and I’ve never seen one wear a lab coat. I don’t think I even know an astronomer who owns a lab coat.” Dang TV people never get anything right!

This morning, my office neighbor was wearing a lab coat.

My one consolation is that another astronomer stopped him in the hallway and said “Wow, I don’t think I’ve ever known another astronomer who owned a lab coat!”

At least I’m not alone…

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