July 10, 2009

Nerding out

Add this to your list of little-known facts about the U of C: up until five or six years ago, there used to be a "student radio telescope." Seriously. I've been playing with it for the last few days as part of my summer job; my professor has decided to use it as part of a new experiment. It's not exactly the Very Large Array, but it's nothing to laugh at, either. Next time you walk through the science quad, look up and check it out on the top of Kersten:The downside is that I've left work each day for the last week covered in acoustic tile dust and orange fiberglass insulation as a result of our haphazard effort to hook it up by running cables through the ceilings of the many abandoned student labs in Kersten.But hey! I can also tell my roommates at dinner that I got to drive the radio telescope today. It comes with this enormous remote control, the size of a computer keyboard, that only has three buttons: "SLOW/FAST," "UP/DOWN," and "EAST/WEST." In theory, we can also control it from a computer, but the documentation is all circa 1990, so no one can really figure it out. And none of us has a favorite satellite or star system, so mostly our playtime has just consisted of pointing it at random directions in the sky. If we point it in the right direction, we get these funny spikes on the oscilloscope readout. I'm not sure what they mean, but they look really cool.