Today I rode my bike 60 km north of Copenhagen to meet Michael Quaade. Michael is a retired astronomer of the Copenhagen University, but they still call him up to do outreach and that is how we got in touch. I had been looking forward to meeting him as far back as Munich!
He invited us to stay in the observatory for the evening, and I knew I couldn't pass up on the opportunity to sleep in an observatory!
The ride was smooth and relaxing, although Denmark is not as flat as some people say. The tall rolling hills provided a healthy challenge and a fitting final ride. In the afternoon, I arrive in the middle of a field where the town has set up a market. I pass by hotdog stands, artists booths, as well as one man who is carving mushrooms out of wood.
Near the northern edge of the field, I spot a large telescope pointed at the sun, with special filters (neutral density and hydrogen-alpha) that allow you to see clearly the textures and activity on the surface. Unfortunately, we're in the middle of a solar minimum, which means we have to wait about four more years before the sunspots become more active again. Still, through the clouds, I spot a prominence or two: handle-like loops of hydrogen plasma on the edge of the sun that are directed by our star's chaotic magnetic field. They look like small loops of thread; actually they are larger than the Earth.
Michael had some other astronomer friends visiting, and we talk about black holes, galaxies, as well as sidewalk astronomy for the entire afternoon.
At cleanup, I help a bit with carrying the equipment back to the observatory, which is only up the street. The observatory was homebuilt in the 1950's by a school teacher, as a summer home with a small dome on top. He was studying the orbit of the moon, as part of an international collaboration to help NASA more accurately pilot there during the Apollo program. Eventually Michael became the operator of the observatory, and was also lucky enough to buy the home directly next to it. We sit on his porch with some beer, continuing to share our culture, until a dinner of fish and chips on the coast starts to sound delicious.
On the northern shore of Zeeland, the sky on the horizon is so clear that it looks as if you can see over the edge. To the east, in the distance, we can also the the shores of Sweden.
Back at Michael's house we have coffee and talk until our eyes are heavy, and then he shows me to my bed. I'm sleeping inside the observatory.
What happens next is coarse and unexpected. I am preparing for bed, sitting on the toilet, when all of a sudden I hear people come in, and they're looking for Michael. They must think the observatory is empty. Next thing I know, the doorknob to the bathroom is turning, and this group nearly barges in on me unexpectedly! I rush to keep the door closed... then quickly wash my hands and exit the bathroom.
As soon as I exit, there are a group of four people, to whom I laugh and introduce myself as the guy in the bathroom.
They are an international group of artists who wanted to experience the night sky, so that they can more accurately depict exoplanets in their illustrations. None of them had ever looked through a telescope before.
Michael and I had gone to sleep because the sky was cloudy, but if we were a little more patient, we would have notice the sky was clearing quickly! It is actually very fortunate that these artists awoke us. I call up Michael, and a few minutes later, he walks across the yard, barefoot, to meet us in the observatory. We view some double stars (two stars in the same solar system), as well as two galaxies. We observe for a good thirty minutes before closing the dome. We say goodnight to our guests, satisfied with a fitting evening of astronomy. Now we are very tired.
Tomorrow, I ride back to Copenhagen, pack my bike, and fly back to the states. See you soon, Philadelphia!