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Last Stargazers: The Enduring Story of Astronomy's Vanishing Explorers
Last Stargazers: The Enduring Story of Astronomy's Vanishing Explorers | Emily Levesque
59 posts | 3 read | 6 to read
The story of the people who see beyond the stars--an astronomy book for adults still spellbound by the night sky.Humans from the earliest civilizations through today have craned their necks each night, using the stars to orient themselves in the large, strange world around them. Stargazing is a pursuit that continues to fascinate us: from Copernicus to Carl Sagan, astronomers throughout history have spent their lives trying to answer the biggest questions in the universe. Now, award-winning astronomer Emily Levesque shares the stories of modern-day stargazers in this new nonfiction release, the people willing to adventure across high mountaintops and to some of the most remote corners of the planet, all in the name of science.From the lonely quiet of midnight stargazing to tall tales of wild bears loose in the observatory, The Last Stargazers is a love letter to astronomy and an affirmation of the crucial role that humans can and must play in the future of scientific discovery.In this sweeping work of narrative science, Levesque shows how astronomers in this scrappy and evolving field are going beyond the machines to infuse creativity and passion into the stars and space and inspires us all to peer skyward in pursuit of the universe's secrets.
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Aims42
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Just started a new book last night and don‘t think I‘ll have it finished by tomorrow….. but, maybe? 🤔 LOL, no I know myself and that won‘t happen lol Anyways, the tagged book is my June pick for the #ReadingBracket2022 @chasjjlee 🙌 Choosing between my May and June pick was a struggle, I loved them both so much! But, I love Kate Quinn, she could rewrite the phone book and I‘d probably preorder it 😂

review
Aims42
Pickpick

This was joyous, wonderful, witty and so many other excellent adjectives! I went in with zero expectations and was floored by how much I loved it! This is the author‘s first “popular science book” and it was a gem 👍 I highly recommend to anyone who enjoys space and to those who don‘t think much about it until you come across a full moon on a random Tuesday and think, “Wow! Would you look at how beautiful the moon is?!?” (I‘m in this group 🙋‍♀️)

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Aims42
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Doing some reading in between innings at my husband‘s softball games, so glad summer is FINALLY here!!

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Aims42
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I‘ve chuckled so many times reading this book, I love it!! The author has such a gift for writing; you feel more like she‘s giving a talk that you‘re attending instead of the reality of you reading her printed words lol 😁👍 I feel like the audio book (if there is one?) would be fantastic!!

EvieBee 😂😂 4mo
32 likes1 comment
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Aims42
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#WineAndBooks continues 😇🍷📖 Started “The Last Stargazers” yesterday and I‘ll admit I didn‘t really know what to expect. 60 pages in and I‘m loving Emily Levesque‘s writing style and will definitely continue on this adventure!! ⭐️🪐🌎🔭

jlhammar What a perfectly named wine to go with that book! Love it. Book sounds fascinating. 4mo
Aims42 @jlhammar Thank you!! Yes, the book is extremely interesting, not my typical read and because of that I‘m really enjoying it 😁 The wine is great too, couldn‘t resist it on the shelf; I love cabs and the price was right 👍 4mo
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wanderinglynn
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Thank you @Aims42 for this awesome #littlechristmasswap package! I immediately dug into the chocolate 😋 and I can‘t wait to dive into the books!

Thanks to @bookish_wookish for hosting this fun swap! ❤️

Aims42 You are so welcome!! I hope you enjoy the books and the chocolate 😊 9mo
81 likes1 comment
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CaitZ
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Pickpick

Emily Levesque delves into the history of astronomy. She talks about developments, new technology, and the difficulties of observing the sky. Her personal stories and anecdotes make the science and the scientists feel more real. I found it interesting. It was also the last book for the Winter quarter of #Booked2021. #NonfictionScienceWrittenByAWoman
@Cinfhen @BarbaraTheBibliophage @4thhouseontheleft

Cinfhen Woohoo ❣️❣️❣️You have until midnight, April 3 to fill out the first quarter form to be entered in our drawing ?
https://bit.ly/3b7rK1E
2y
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JenniferEgnor
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Pickpick

I think this meme sums it up! This book wasn‘t what I was expecting it to be but it was pretty cool! The author interviewed 112 other peoplx for their personal space experiences, and there are some wild stories here. The Universe is so weird, so mind blowing—but reading things like this make my brain hurt a little less when trying to understand it. We are the stars.

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JenniferEgnor
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Reading Group Guide Q&A: What new questions do you have about astronomy/astronomers after reading this? My A: How is space so weird? Will we ever get to see the other side of a black hole/go through a worm hole/white hole? Why is spacetime so weird? Will we ever discover warp speed travel and if so, will it be the thing that helps us kill ourselves if we haven‘t already?
•I had to pay homage to Lady Gaga! This song is now in my head🪐⭐️

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JenniferEgnor
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Reading Group Guide Q&A: What surprised you the most about what life as an astronomer is like?

My A: I knew it wasn‘t just looking up at the sky, I knew it was a lot of math and staying up all night. I wasn‘t expecting it to be so dangerous on the Earth though! Seriously, there are some wild stories in here!

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JenniferEgnor
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Reading Group Guide Q&A: What memories do you have of stargazing and the night sky? My A: my father and I with a small telescope in my childhood; my husband and I watching eclipses, meteor showers; and a spectacular view of the dark rift one clear night when we were out on the bike. It was so dark and clear that I could see the dark rift of the Milky Way! I wanted to stay in that moment forever.

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JenniferEgnor
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When asked why we need to study things like the insides of stars or how our solar system works, an odd but enjoyable answer is: aliens. What do you talk about when you meet someone new? Eventually, we may move on to other forms of expression, to sharing who we are and our dreams and souls, but the universe and the language of science is the one common ground and starting point we know we‘ll have. 👽🪐

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JenniferEgnor
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Operating a telescope remotely from your office is also certainly less physically strenuous than traveling to one in person. When using data from a robotic telescope, there are no platforms to fall off of, no scorpions or tarantulas scurrying around the control room, no arduous expeditions to Argentina or the South Pole or the stratosphere in pursuit of a few moments of observations.

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JenniferEgnor
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...research on the universe that simply can‘t be done with a robot or automated pipeline, oddities in the sky that require a human eye to separate the exciting from errors, discoveries that grow out of ideas squeezed into the observing plan or the last few minutes of darkness at the end of night. This type of science is at risk of disappearing if automated telescopes end up wholly replacing, rather than complementing, human-driven observing.

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JenniferEgnor
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Peoplx...Kip Thorne and Anna Zytkow discovered a supergiant star that swallowed a neutron star! OMG how wild is that? This represents a completely new model for how the insides of stars could work. Their discovery was named Thorne-Zytkov Object.

Thorne won a Nobel Piece Prize for detecting gravitational waves and worked on the amazing film Interstellar.

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JenniferEgnor
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One colleague compared the suite of telescopes that astronomers need for studying the universe to the full suite of appliances and tools used in a busy kitchen. A good cook may delight in the things they can do with a top-of-the-line KitchenAid, but to make a gourmet meal, they also need pots, pans, some simple bowls and spatulas, and they may even bust out their grandmother‘s old hand mixer once in a while.

Let‘s fund space stuff!

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JenniferEgnor
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Smaller telescopes also allow us to keep exploring the countless mysteries of space that lurk in our own cosmic backyard, studying bright nearby stars that still hold the answers to innumerable puzzles. Gravitational waves hold the answers to questions about the universe that we‘ve only just begun to ask.

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JenniferEgnor
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Airborne and space based telescopes open up the wide world of light hidden from us by our planet‘s atmosphere, and radio telescopes reveal the potent science held by light far beyond the reach of human eyes. Telescopes scattered across the globe allow us to explore the entirety of the night sky, and expeditions to study eclipses and occultations allow us to chase the exciting and serendipitous moments of astronomy.

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JenniferEgnor
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A massive survey telescope like the Rubin Observatory will discover millions of supernovae, but the extremely large telescopes of the coming decade will let us study the chemistry of those supernovae and explore their host galaxies to study the stars that made them.

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JenniferEgnor
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It‘s a scientifically exhilarating thought: the scale of our research is inching closer to the scale of the cosmos, and every time we‘ve pointed new technology at the sky— larger telescopes, airborne telescopes, telescopes with their vision sharpened by lasers— we‘ve discovered something new and unexpected about our universe.

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JenniferEgnor
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...realized he was looking at a real an absolutely huge distant object in the Kuiper Belt. The discovery turned out to be Eris, the largest Kuiper Belt object ever found at the time. Though its size was ultimately downgraded, Eris‘s Discovery prompted an infamous vote by the International Astronomical Union to better define what astronomers considered a planet. The vote demoted Pluto to a dwarf planet status, along with Eris and several others.

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JenniferEgnor
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Some time-domain subjects, like exploding stars and flaring stars, are fleeting events that must be pounced on and studied before they disappear. Others, like newfound asteroids scooting across the sky or stars that vary regularly as a function of time, need to be tracked at regular and sometimes inflexible intervals.

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JenniferEgnor
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Target of opportunity astronomy grew out of the urgency that comes when we think we‘ve spotted something new and need to get data on it as quickly as possible before it disappears. Supernova explosions and flaring stars are just two examples of what sometimes gets referred to as “time- domain” astronomy, the practice of studying rapidly varying things in the night sky.

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JenniferEgnor
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Stars flare all the time. Flares large enough to see from halfway across the galaxy are more dramatic. Catching one is a lucky break— typical stellar flares only last for a few minutes— and studying them is a valuable way to learn more about the star‘s inner physics, outer layers, and even how flares might impact the possible presence of life on any nearby planets. A new type of flare suggested possible signs of a new type of stellar physics.

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JenniferEgnor
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OMG, can you imagine???!!! How incredible it would be to see such a sight! ⭐️💀💥

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JenniferEgnor
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On July 4, 1054, the supernova death of a star only 6,500 light-years away grew so bright that it outshone every other object in the sky besides the sun and the moon. It was visible in the daytime sky for two weeks and was immortalized in Chinese, Japanese and Arabic historical records. The remnant of that supernova, the Crab Nebula, is one of the most famous and well-photographed objects in today‘s sky.

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JenniferEgnor
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It‘s easy to think of the sky as static and unchanging. Astronomical time usually unfolds over millions or billions of years. The average supernova brightens and then dims again in a matter of days, so if we don‘t catch a glimpse of one in the week or two when it‘s near peak brightness, the opportunity to find it and observe it is permanently lost.

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JenniferEgnor
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Oscar Duhalde can lay claim to a truly unique astronomical discovery. He is the only person on the entire planet—and probably one of only a handful of people in the history of the human species—who has discovered a supernova with the naked eye.

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JenniferEgnor
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Little blue dot or not, it‘s almost impossible to overestimate how deliriously excited astronomers can get over a tiny speck of light in the right place.

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JenniferEgnor
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The only difference is that gravitational waves are moving at the speed of light and squeezing and stretching spacetime itself, along with everything in it; as a gravitational wave passes through Earth, the planet gets squeezed and stretched as well. Gravitational waves fall into that wonderful realm of physics where things exist simply because the math of the universe insists they *should*.

Suet624 wow 2y
JenniferEgnor @Suet624 astronomy is really weird and mind blowing!🤯🤯🤯 (edited) 2y
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JenniferEgnor
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The moment of totality is pretty much impossible to miss if you‘re in the path of the eclipse, and the universal bond shared by everyone standing underneath the sun as it momentarily disappears is palpable.

Photo shown: me and the husband looking up at the eclipse in 2017! 🌞🌚🌞

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JenniferEgnor
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Total solar eclipses can be some of the toughest but most rewarding events to observe in astronomy. They give us a unique opportunity to study everything from the sun itself to complex theories of gravity and spacetime. An astronomer could spend immense effort to reach precisely the right place at exactly the right time, only to see their plans foiled by a single ill-timed cloud.

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JenniferEgnor
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I was immobilized for a brief moment, gawking at the sky. An astoundingly perfect black void sat where the sun had been, surrounded by a jagged white nimbus of light that nearly brought me to tears. This was the solar corona, the hot outer edges of the sun‘s atmosphere that drive a flood of particles into space and generate a phenomenon known as a stellar wind, a key property of how our sun and other stars evolve.

Suet624 Beautiful photo!
2y
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JenniferEgnor
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In the final moments before totality, the excitement became unbearable. Darkness was starting to descend, and everyone had their eclipse glasses on and their faces pointed skyward. Several people gasped and turned as, behind us, the Grand Tetons suddenly plunged into darkness, the first hint of totality‘s shadow speeding toward us at over two thousand miles an hour.

Suet624 oooohhhh, so cool. 2y
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JenniferEgnor
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The sense of anticipation grew as the sun slowly disappeared, imperceptible for a long time save for the drop in temperature, a slight funny shift in the light, and the fact that every image being projected of the sun was slowly morphing from circle to Pac-Man to croissant.

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JenniferEgnor
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Astronomers can be saddled with the typical stereotype of robotic scientists who lose the ability to see romance and beauty in favor of dryly spouting factoids/studying zeros and ones. I discovered how thoroughly my fellow scientists defied the stereotype when I talked to them about my eclipse plans. When I raised the subject, most people‘s first instinct was to talk about the beauty, emotion, the almost spiritual ethereality of the whole event.

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JenniferEgnor
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Now, suddenly, here they were: massive pale green curtains, curling and waving and coalescing in a strange motion unlike anything I‘d ever seen. We were practically *in* them; they filled such an immense swath of sky that it was hard to know where to look from the panoramic cockpit windows, flickering over my head and rippling and winding back on themselves straight ahead and forming an almost eerie glow low on the horizon.

Suet624 Northern lights are so eerie. Great quote. 2y
JenniferEgnor @Suet624 they are hauntingly beautiful, and possible by starlight. Fascinating! I so want to see them one day! 2y
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JenniferEgnor
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“Do you mind if we kill the lights? We think there‘s some aurora over there.” I nodded, the cockpit went dark, and I stopped breathing. I‘d never seen the aurora. I‘d dreamed of the sight since I was a small child but had never once spotted them. It had turned into something of an obsession.

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JenniferEgnor
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The station also has a Roomba, affectionately named Bert, tasked with keeping the halls clean even during the long winter months when the station is down to a skeleton crew. In a place so remote that it barely even feels like Earth, the scientists working there are happy to latch onto whatever familiar human comfort they can, even if that comfort winds up being an intrepid worm or a robot pet.

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JenniferEgnor
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The moon landings did offer one additional bonus bit of astronomy. During Apollo 11, Armstrong and Aldrin placed a special mirror on the lunar surface, designed to reflect lasers shot at the moon by telescopes. By bouncing lasers off these mirrors, astronomers can directly measure the distance between the earth and moon to within a few millimeters; we learned from this that the moon is actually spiraling away from us at a rate of 3.8 cm per year.

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JenniferEgnor
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Our atmosphere, in addition to stirring up the light that actually makes it to the earth‘s surface, also blocks vast swaths of light from ever reaching us in the first place. Most light at shorter or longer wavelengths heading our way from outer space—invisible to our eyes but invaluable if we can capture it with a telescope—finds itself blocked by the atmosphere on its way here.

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JenniferEgnor
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The twinkling that makes star is so pretty for many of us stargazing on the ground is a perpetual problem for astronomers— and attempts to minimize it have gotten truly spectacular thanks to the advent of adaptive optics.

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JenniferEgnor
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Today, the kittens of astronomy have an online presence set up at @ ObservatoryCats on Twitter; the account has raised funds to help care for the pet population of Puerto Rico after hurricane Maria and keeps track of astronomy cats that got their start at telescopes.

Following! 😻🪐

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JenniferEgnor
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When the cat population started to get out of control, a few astronomers started taking in kittens. The network of astronomer cat traffickers spiraled and extended to cats found at other nearby radio observatories; at an astronomy building in Tucson, while investigating what sounded like rats, someone pushed up a ceiling tile and had two kittens fall out of the ceiling. They were quickly named Phobos and Deimos after the two moons of Mars.🤣

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JenniferEgnor
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What the protests are about changes depending on whom you ask: environmental protection, cultural rights, religion, sovereignty, or simply being able to exert power in a fight for the mountain. I have to hope we can find a way to respect and share our own humanity, knowledge of the cosmos, and love for the mountains that make our work possible. They‘re the windows we‘re able to climb to that give us a glimpse of the universe.

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JenniferEgnor
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Like other Hawaiian volcanoes, Mauna Kea is also considered a sacred mountain in the native Hawaiian religion. With a name meaning “white mountain,” deriving from its snowcapped summit, it is believed to be the home of Polo‘ahu, one of the snow goddesses in Hawaiian mythology. The mountain is also seen as representing the umbilical cord of the Big Island, connecting the land to the sky from which it was born.

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JenniferEgnor
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More than one astronomer pressed their eye to the eyepiece for a long exposure and then discovered that they‘d frozen the tears and tender skin around their eye directly to the metal. One observer managed to unscrew the eyepiece, carried it into a nearby warmer room, and then calmly waited for it to defrost so they could safely detach and go back to observing.

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JenniferEgnor
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Even when not being held at gunpoint, it‘s worth remembering that an observatory can be a dangerous place. Most telescope sites combine treacherous roads, high altitudes, and remote locations several hours from medical care with heavy moving equipment and tired and fragile humans.

Yes. A telescope was SHOT in TX, Feb 5, 1970!!!🤯

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JenniferEgnor
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If astronomers as a community were asked to pick a favorite observatory animal, it would likely be the viscacha. They frequent many Chilean observatories, and their steady presence over the years has alerted astronomers to a funny quirk of these little creatures: they seem to love watching sunsets. From a cosmic perspective, astronomer and viscacha alike are small living things, perched on a mountain, watching our home planet turn.

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JenniferEgnor
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Ladybugs can cause similar problems; early every summer, huge swarms traversing the American Southwest will alight on high mountain peaks during mass migrations, turning out in such numbers that entire building walls can appear bright red and slightly teeming. All of these, though, pale next to the scorpions.