There is one thing about working at Keck, everyone seems to come here.
I have met a few interesting folks working on the mountain… Famous astronomers like Alex Filippenko and Andrea Ghez, one of my favorite SciFi authors David Brin. Politicians of all levels, county through federal, routinely visit the facility. Just wait a bit, they will come.This proved true again this week with visits from a pair of famous, infamous to some, visitors. Richard Dawkins is a British author and campaigner for science and reason in the public sphere. Sean Faircloth is an ex-politician, lawyer and eloquent speaker who has likewise taken up that torch. Knowing who was coming I had overstayed my usual shift on the summit to be around for an evening tour.
Unfortunately Richard was not in best form, his legendary wit and charm in short supply. I suspect a little too much travel combined with 13,600ft altitude was taking its toll, he was tired, but seemed to make the best of the tour. Sean on the other hand, was in fine form. The party was rounded out by Christopher Amos, Robin Cornwell, executive director for RDF and IfA astronomer Roy Gal. Our guests were full of questions about the facility and the work we were doing.
We toured the telescopes while the operators and astronomers were preparing for the night. It should have been no surprise that there were quite a few fans in this science centered place, even the visiting astronomers were fans, happy to pause and answer a few questions.Observing this night included the use of the Keck 1 AO laser and everyone was able to see the beam against a beautiful starry sky. I introduced Sniffen, one of our night attendants and laser spotters. Not that they could see his face, Sniffen was bundled to the eyes, comfortable in the spotter’s chair outside in the cold. The fact that we are mandated to use people to watch the sky for aircraft around the laser was an interesting subject of conversation.
It is always a bit odd meeting someone in person that you have known for years through electronic media. Having read their writings, seen the videos, you form a mental image of a person that may, or may not match who you meet. Personal interaction offers a chance to reconcile that mental image.
It was a pleasure to host a tour of Keck for guests such as these. People who tirelessly push back against the efforts of religious demagogues and extremists to control the path of our society.