Occasionally we get phone calls. People have an astronomy question and decide to call an observatory to get an answer. I would caution that this is generally not the best way to get an answer, Googling the question or looking it up on Wikipedia is much more likely to result in a usable answer. Usually our front desk will politely defer the caller to some other source, Shelly is very good at doing this.
Shelly is also a very nice lady who occasionally takes pity on some caller. Or the caller is very polite and asks very nicely. Often she forwards the call to me, knowing that I can usually answer these sort of questions.
What sort of telescope can be used to view the ISS?
At least the question did not involve aliens or NASA cover-ups, those question would have gotten the polite brush off from Shelly.
For someone who is inexperienced in using telescopes this not the easy place to start. Most of us who have been using telescopes for decades usually do not even try to do this. The space station is quite small and would require higher magnification to see well. It is also moving quite quickly across the sky. The combination of these two factors makes viewing the ISS a real challenge, to put it politely!
I have been trying to get some good photos of both Keck lasers on the galactic center for some years. Other photographers have produced spectacular photos that have me seething with envy. Why can I not get equivalent photos? It is not like I have a lack of access. The answer is mostly bad luck and circumstance. I do work, this limits the nights I can make the attempt. On those times I have ascended the mountain to photograph I have been plagued by bad weather.
There are only a few nights a year when Andrea Ghez and the UCLA Galactic Center Group have both telescopes scheduled, the night when both lasers will be focused on the core of our galaxy and the massive black hole that dwells there. Last year I had attempted a night only to find clouds and fog through the night allowing only a few moments of dual lasers and disappointing results.
This year looked to be much the same. The night was set, I had volunteered to host several local photographers, we had film permits on-hand, an observatory vehicle reserved, all the arrangements made. The only issue? The Mauna Kea Weather Center forecast promised high clouds and fog for the night. I was bracing for yet another disappointment.
It was a beautiful morning! Alarm set for 4:30am, out of the house at 5am, setup just at sunrise on the old Saddle Road. The sun rose through low clouds over the grasslands of Parker Ranch with Waimea to one side and Mauna Kea on the other.
Setting up a telescope as the Sun was rising seemed just wrong. I am used to breaking down a telescope as the Sun comes over the horizon at the end of a night’s observing. It is not often that an observing session results in my risking sunburn!
The seeing was pretty horrible at sunrise but rapidly improved as the Sun rose. As the transit ended the seeing was quite sharp and the photos not all that bad. At least as long as I kept the shutter speeds high. Visually the view was quite nice, a sharp black dot against the Sun, a far cry from the dancing blur you usually see when trying to view Mercury in the glow of Sunset.