Veteran’s Day and the VLBA

By far one of the most remarkable events of the past two weeks was experiencing some actual November weather.  Although I’ve had a lot of Christmas drinks from Starbucks over the past few weeks while working on end-of-semester projects, it’s stayed about 80 degrees here in Tucson.  On Kitt Peak, however, things are different.  I spent Veteran’s Day weekend enjoying my day off, doing homework, and setting up the Christmas tree, but this weekend was really exciting!

Saturday at 2 pm, we left the university to go up to Kitt Peak Observatory.  Wearing leggings, jeans, and a long-sleeve shirt, I was pretty hot while waiting for the group to assemble, but once we reached Kitt Peak, I added my sweatshirt.  The trip is one the astronomy club does every year to walk on the dish of the VLBA telescope and look at the stars after dark.  The VLBA (Very Large Baseline Array) is a series of ten radio telescopes across the US that uses interferometry to process large amounts of data.  If you include all ten telescopes, it is technically the largest telescope in the world.  The climb up to the dish was a bit harrowing, but it was completely worth it to stand there!

After the dish, we drove up to the astronomers’ lodge for dinner where I ate a Chick-fil-a sandwich that I am proud to say I kept insulated for five hours after I bought it.  After sunset, we drove back down the mountain a bit to the twelve-meter telescope and parked outside to look at the stars.  The drive down to the telescope was remarkable in its own right because the sun had just set, and with the view from the mountains, we could see the remaining colors over the western horizon while the Summer Triangle was already shining overhead (and slightly to the east).  In the distance, we could see to Tucson which looked so much smaller from this distance.

We stayed to watch the stars for a few more hours, while one of the astronomy professors pointed out constellations.  We had a few optical telescopes belonging to the club with which we looked at a fuzzy Andromeda Galaxy, a few nebulae, and some binary stars including Alberio which has two different colored stars – one blue and one yellow.  The Milky Way was clearly visible above us, and there were even some shooting stars thanks to the Leonid Meteor Shower.  Orion was rising as we drove back into Tucson, signaling winter to me, although I had to shed a few layers once we were back in the city.  It was an incredible experience, and I’m really glad I got to see it!

Until next time ~

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Pasó Por Aquí

Two weeks later, and I’ve not only seen a lot of Arizona, I’ve also finished another first week of class.  But first, the trip.  Before entering Arizona, we stopped in New Mexico to see El Malpais and El Morro – some of my favorites from the whole trip.  El Morro translates to “The Headland,” which is an apt name for this mesa that dominates the landscape around it.  Since pre-historic times people have seen this cliff face as something awesome and have carved into it.  Walking along the trail, you can see not only petroglyphs, but evidence of Spanish explorers, American soldiers, and New Deal workers who carved the staircase that leads to the top.  The Spanish phrase “pasó por aquí” (passed by here) that is written so many times on this rock is, to me, a mark of how people have always wanted to note their passage through the world, like I am on this blog.

In Arizona, we passed by many other places that have been held in equal esteem for the last few centuries.  From the beautiful Painted Desert that is the entrance to the Petrified Forest to the Grand Canyon and Casa Grande, it’s remarkable to see how generations of people have shaped this land and called it home.  Driving through a state known for its desert, you wouldn’t expect mountains, trees, and fields, but they’re all here under a beautiful Arizona sky.  The names of these places make them seem like they’re from another world (i.e. Montezuma’s Castle, which is neither a castle nor anywhere close to Montezuma’s empire).  However, I really liked this trip for the chance to see how people have lived and thrived in this apparently inhospitable land for so long.  That phrase “pasó por aquí” certainly has a deeper meaning when you can go to Casa Grande.  People made in this huge settlement nearly six centuries ago, and their descendants still live in Arizona today!

And last Monday, I continued my own passage in this place as I moved into my dorm for the three weeks of UAdvantage.  I haven’t unpacked much since I’ll be moving again soon, so this place really just feels temporary.  In fact, by the time I post again, I’ll be packing everything up to move again!

The classes themselves have been a lot of fun this first week, particularly the “field trip” across campus to the Arizona State Museum.  As the first part of the Anthropology class has focused on Native Americans in Arizona, the museum’s primary exhibit was relevant.  As a description can’t really capture how cool this exhibit is to walk through, I would first recommend coming out to visit, but for those who can’t, let me just say that this was a really well-done exhibit.  Not only does it have interactive portions and awesome artifacts, it was also designed with the help and permission of the tribes whom it discusses.  By far my favorite part, however, was the life-size diorama that depicted a scene from a story told to you via recording.

As for my first weekend here, I would deem the Lord of the Rings marathon a rousing success.  I think the remainder of my time in UAdvantage will go just as well as this first week, and I can’t wait for the fall semester to start afterwards.  I’ve kept up with Arabic online, so I’ll be ready for that class when it starts too.  It’s exciting to be starting college so soon, as these summer sessions really haven’t been too different from past summers abroad.  Thinking about staying here is exciting, and I welcome the thought that I too will be able to say I passed by here.