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The Keck 2 telescope is sitting at nearly 14,000 feet above sea level on top of Mauna Kea, waiting for the sun to go down. In a couple of hours we'll open up the big shutters, turn the cameras and telescopes towards some of our favorite objects in the Kuiper belt, and fire lasers up into the sky. At no time, however, will I ever set foot in Hawaii.

These days, almost no astronomers set foot on the summit of Mauna Kea to observe at Keck. Most observations are done from much closer to sea level in the little town of Waimea, where the Keck headquarters are located. The control room at Keck HQ mimics much of what you would find up at the mountain, with consoles everywhere, fast computer connections to the summit, and, best of all, a nearly seamless video link to talk to the telescope operator up top. You can sometimes forget that you're not really there, except for the fact that, closer to sea level, you feel much much better, sleep much better, and can get delicious Hawaiian poke at the KTA grocery store next door. You lose out on the chance to step outside and get a feel for the weather conditions, but, increasingly, there is so much information available about the weather and the sky and meteorological conditions, that stepping outside is rarely necessary.

Once you take the big step of leaving the summit for Waimea, it's not a big step to consider not even being in Hawaii. A few years ago, trying to get good enough video and data connections from the mainland to Hawaii was iffy -- it would work most of the time but not all of time. "Iffy" is unacceptable when you're using a telescope that is said to be worth about $1/second of operation. These days things seem much better. So here I am, in a little remote control room in the astronomy building on the Caltech campus, waiting for the sun to go down in Hawaii.

If things go well -- and I expect them to -- we will forget that we are in Pasadena and feel in our heads like we're in Waimea, where we'll forget we're in Waimea and feel in our heads like we're on the summit of Mauna Kea.

And, of course, we'll be posting pictures as they arrive. Stay tuned.
Damon Schooler's profile photoMike Brown's profile photo
I hope you get clear skies, but please don't kill anymore planets even if they have it coming.
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