Disturbing the Universe

David L Clements, science and science fiction

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Hawaiian Weather

And the weather report from Hawaii today is: temperatures -5 to -7, windspeed 60 to 100 mph with gusts up to 120 mph. That means with windchill it would feel like -28. Eat your heart out Edmonton!

Those are the real figures, but that’s because I’m on the top of Mauna Kea failing to get any observing done because of the wind.

It’s an astronomer’s life.

In the meantime I’m carrying on work on the Infrared Astronomy book. Today I learned that Titan has a methane cycle the way the Earth has a hydrological cycle. Maybe it should be called the mythalogical cycle?

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And breathe…

Having spent the last 5 days living between 10000 and 14000 feet on Mauna Kea, I’m now back at sea level and enjoying the balmy feeling of there being enough oxygen in the air.

When you’re on the mountain you don’t realise how much extra work your body is doing to make sure it gets the oxygen it needs. Yes, you notice when you walk up a flight of stairs too fast, but you don’t notice that your lungs are inflating more and that you’re breathing faster than usual.

Until you get down to sea level, that is.

Suddenly everything is much easier.

It’s a good reminder that we live in a sea of air, held onto our planet by gravity and nothing else. And we need to take some of that sea with us wherever we might wish to go.

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Top of the World

One of the reasons I’ve been messing with this blog over the past two days is that I’m observing at the JCMT in Hawaii – yes this is day job stuff. I may say more about what science I’m doing in a later post, but will stick to what it’s like working here for now.

The JCMT is on top of Mauna Kea in Hawaii. At 14000 feet I’m above 1/3 of the atmosphere and slight more of the oxygen. This means you have to cope with a reduced amount of oxygen to the brain, alongside jet lag (I flew from the UK), working nights, observing lag in other words, and getting too little sleep. The JCMT can observe during daylight, so the shifts here are 12 hours. Add to that time to get to the summit from the accommodation at 10000 feet, time to eat and prepare for the run, and you won’t have time for a good night’s sleep even if you are able to sleep solidly, and I can’t.

One of the effects of this is that I can’t concentrate properly. My attention span goes to pieces and the lack of oxygen makes me thick.

What might be 4 long stretches in which to do some fiction writing is in fact time for only small bursts of activity. So I’ve sent comments on a few scientific papers I’m co-author on and have revamped this blog.

Hopefully it’s time well spent.

To learn a bit more on what working up here is like, you can have a look at my non-fiction piece in Clarkesworld, The Mauna Kea Experience.