A little over a week ago I arrived at the largest single-dish radio telescope in the world. My boss picked me up at the airport and drove me up into the hills of Puerto Rico’s karst country where I caught my first glimpse of the support towers of Arecibo Observatory, peeking out over the wooded hills.
May 23, 2012
I’d spent last spring reading news reports and watching footage of 東日本大震災 (“the big earthquake disaster of Eastern Japan”), especially of the tsunami that traveled six miles inland in areas near the city of Sendai. Curious to see what had happened in the last 14 months since the earthquake, I boarded a Shinkansen for the relatively short ride up to the Tōhoku region, 東北, “east north”. My friend Dan-chan, our guide on the Fuji-san climb, recommended visiting Matsushima, 松島, the pine-covered islands near Sendai.
May 22, 2012
Just a few kilometers down the road from JAXA where I’d spent the summer of 2011 was 天文台通り, “heaven language hill avenue”. By some combination of my lack of kanji comprehension and the supreme focus of my colleagues, no one put one and one together and so during my first seven weeks in Japan I managed to be unaware of the proximity of the National Astronomy Observatory of Japan. I fortunately sat next to Ito-san at the ACM banquet, and he offered to give me a tour of the facilities. I went back to see my old lab at JAXA, talked about the high quality of rice from Niigata, and was picked up by Ito-san in the midst of a rainstorm to visit NAOJ’s campus.
May 21, 2012 If there’s one temple to visit in Kyōto, I was told, it would be Kiyomizudera, 清水寺, temple of pure water. Continue reading
May 21, 2012
When I looked at a map of Japan to find Niigata, I noticed that a train line ran all the way from the coastal city hosting our conference to Kyōto, the tracks flirting with the shores of the Sea of Japan (日本海, “Japan Sea”). I’d been encouraged to visit Kyōto, and as this was my third trip to Japan without yet visiting the ancient capital, I figured now was the time to go. With a week-long JR rail pass, I decided to take the trains from Niigata to Kyōto, rather than pass back through Tōkyō and down to Kyōto, a route I’d taken eight times in the last ten months.
After the eclipse, I boarded a local train in Niigata. Past flooded rice fields, mountains flecked with snow, and a placid coastline, the trains rumbled and sped, me as practically the only passenger in most cars as we passed the tail end of springtime on Honshū (本州, “main province”), the main island of Japan.
May 21, 2012
The moon passed in front of the sun right at the end of Asteroids, Comets, and Meteors. The forecast was for a perfect annular eclipse as seen from Tōkyō, but the weather forecast for the eastern capital was far from clear. We elected to spend the night of the 19th in Niigata, and the next morning, Cristina and I set out early to watch the sunrise and hand out glasses to passersby to watch the moon pass in front of our sun.
The kanji for this astronomical event–金環日食–translate quite literally as “a golden ring making a meal of the sun”. The geometry of our solar system sees our moon dieting on our stellar neighbor.
May 18, 2012
Asteroids, Comets, Meteors in Baltimore in 2008 had a cultural “excursion” to a baseball game; ACM 2012 had one to a well-preserved mansion near Niigata known as the Northern Culture Museum. Preserved through a partnership with an American donor, this expansive manor and its grounds showcase life in the late 19th century in north-western Japan.
May 16-20, 2012
Asteroids, Comets, and Meteors is a scientific conference held every three years, organized with support from the International Astronomy Union (IAU), the same folks who in 2006 voted to demote Pluto. Planetary definitions aside, I was excited when they announced a conference in 2011 in Japan; small solar system bodies and the Land of the Rising Sun, what could be a better combination? Then the Tōhoku Disaster of 2011 happened, and the conference was postponed until 2012, a year of uncertainty for me. I cobbled together a project, support, and submitted an abstract on observations I’d taken earlier this year on a binary asteroid system, (22) Kalliope and its moon Linus, and packed my bags for Niigata, northwest of Tōkyō through the alps.
February 15, 2012
Another year, another telescope trained on another asteroid. I spent the evening of February 15 at the summit of Mt. Hamilton near San Jose with the 40″ Nickel telescope pointed at (22) Kalliope and its moon Linus. The asteroid slowly plodded across the camera frame as the hours ticked by from sunset until 1 am. The weather was clear, if windy. Most of the observing was supposed to be done remotely from a basement at UC Berkeley, but I had to be checked out first at the actual telescope before I could remotely observe, so away I drove to Mount Hamilton.
January 5, 2012
Sometimes the stars align, even when the clouds and minor planets do not, and on your flight between Narita and San Francisco you can swing a seven-hour layover in Honolulu, Hawaiʻi for cheaper than a direct flight. After the damp and chilly weather of Kyushu and the icy cold of Tokyo, a few hours in the warm sunshine were all I wanted.