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Control room

Monday, December 21st 2009

In times past, the telescope control rooms were in the telescope domes, and observers would drive out each night and spent the hours of darkness ensconced in the dome. But in recent years they've moved all the major telescope controls into one room. It's conveniently close to the kitchen so getting a midnight meal is easy, but it feels strange to be so far from the actual telescope.

In our temporary office in the control room building, there was a spectacularly good coffee machine which dispensed awesome espressos at the touch of a button. The first night we were there I pressed that button 15 times, and by dawn I felt slightly unusual. In subsequent nights I kept my button presses to single figures.

The only thing I seriously didn't like about the control room was its bizarre cuckoo clock, which chimed loudly and cheesily every hour. Somehow the intervals between the chimes seemed much shorter than an hour, and I felt like each ridiculous chime was marking the passage of an hour of my life that I wouldn't get back. Later, we met a Swiss astronomer using the Swiss national telescope. One evening we went out to see their set up, and saw their spectacularly nice kitchen and lounge area. He claimed that the cuckoo clock was the legacy of a terrible misunderstanding when the control room was being refurbished. Someone had said it should be "like what the Swiss have got", or something like that, but somehow this was understood as a request for Swiss touches, and hence a cuckoo clock was purchased.

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