Dr. Lisa Prato
Dr. Gerard van Belle
Dr. Lisa Prato Astronomer, Lowell Observatory
Well, I don't do it every night, so I don't get too burned out, but I'm in the middle of my heavy observing season. Since I study young stars, the winter Taurus is up. I don't know the constellations very well, since usually I'm looking at them through a big telescope, which -- so it makes it easier for me. I type in the coordinates and go to my object. So it's not as hard as sitting out there in the cold with a small telescope, which is good because I hate being cold.
I get so happy. If I'm at the IRTF telescope or at the Keck telescope and the weather is good, and I've got a night or two, and things are going well, and I have a great telescope operator helping me, I'm so purely happy because I know I'm getting this great data, and it's going to be archived, and I'm going to be able to get out of it what I need for my science, and somebody else could get something else out of it once the archive goes public -- a year and a half later, in the case of Keck. I just feel so excited because I know I have a good idea, and I know I'm collecting useful data, and I know it will be used in different ways.
It's just great because -- the best thing I told one of my postdoctoral advisors when I started working with him, I said, "You know, I just love reducing the spectra, because I collect the data, I come home, I sit in my office, I reduce the data, and up on my screen comes a spectrum of an object that nobody else has ever seen a spectrum of before." Maybe somebody has an image of it, but nobody has seen -- it's like its fingerprint. It's like looking at its brain. Every day of work, I'm looking at things that no other human has ever seen, and it's great. It's so exciting, not because nobody else has ever seen it but because, "Wow, look at this! This is cool. I'm learning something new, and I'm going to go publish and other people can use the data."
I would eventually like to get lots of my reduced data onto Web sites so people can access it really easily, but that really keeps me going. It's not like I need anything much to keep me going. It's such an exciting job, and I feel really lucky to do it, and it's so much fun.
Dr. Gerard van Belle Astronomer, Lowell Observatory
So one of the things that I really like about my job is when you go out to the telescope -- a lot of these telescopes that I run, you can give it a queue where you basically give it a lot of work to do, and then you can go have lunch or you can go outside and look at the sky.
This is really nice because the night sky really is awe-inspiring. You know, when you look up, and you can see things out there, you can see the stars, and then your eyes adjust more and more as you've come out of a brightly-lit office, and you then can see maybe the Milky Way galaxy that goes across the strip of the sky. You can see some of your old friends, in terms of the constellations up there.
It's always just very impressive to see the vastness of the universe around you and to be learning things about that. It's the sort of thing that I always -- you know, it still puts a chill down your spine when you're able to go outside, and especially when you're, like, "Ah, I'm getting paid to do this. This is great." It's the sort of thing that -- you know, you see shooting stars, and you still make a wish. Professional astronomers still do that. This is a lot of fun. It's a great job to have.
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