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Looking to Lani in Hawaii

Hello Blueshift readers! I’m a new blogger here, and want to briefly introduce myself. I’m a NASA Postdoctoral Program Fellow here at Goddard, which means that I spend most of my time studying the universe. Ok, maybe that’s too broad…more specifically, I’m an astronomer in the field of observational cosmology; more specifically, studying galaxy evolution and assembly; even more specifically, studying structural and star formation properties of galaxies outside our own Milky Way. I got my Ph.D. in Physics from Arizona State University in 2008, and my B.S. from University of Arkansas in 2002. I work under the James Webb Space Telescope project, where I also help with Education and Public Outreach stuff. Lots of fun!

One of the things I love about being an astronomer is the amount of traveling I get to do.  In the last ~three months, I’ve been to Germany, Hawaii, Santa Cruz, and New York City (not to mention down the street to Washington DC and up the street to Baltimore) all on “official” astronomy business.  Which might make you wonder how I’m able to get any work at all done, but (perhaps miraculously) I’ve managed to submit a paper in the middle of all of that in addition to the talks and other work related to the actual trips themselves.  Of all those places listed above, I honestly can’t say which one I like the most, because they are all so different.  But Hawaii was perhaps the most hands-on from an observational astronomy standpoint (‘lani’ is the Hawaiian word for ‘sky’), so I’ll start out there.


Most of my recent work has been using data from the Hubble Space Telescope – particularly the new Wide Field Camera 3 that was installed in the fourth Servicing Mission last May.  It has produced some astonishing images in less than a year since it’s been operational.  I’m definitely a Hubble fan: I think it’s one of the most (perhaps THE most) remarkable scientific instruments built in the last century.  However, there is still a definite place for ground-based telescopes, and some of the best telescopes in the world are on the Big Island of Hawaii.  Flying in, on a clear day, you can see tiny (from afar) white dots on the tallest part of the island–the telescope domes.

In April, I joined a couple of colleagues (both women!) for observations of several distant galaxies using the Japanese Subaru telescope.  The observing conditions atop Mauna Kea’s 14,000 ft. summit are some of the best in the world, and we had a wonderful observing run.  Although the altitude can wreak havoc on some people…observers are required to stay overnight at the astronomer’s quarters (at 9,000 ft) to acclimatize before ascending.  The decreased oxygen means that we are required to monitor our oxygen throughout the evenings and in some cases, use oxygen masks if they’re needed.  I’m lucky that I don’t experience altitude sickness hardly at all – it has almost no effect on me.



Another one of the wonderful things about Hawaii is the cultural significance of the summit to the people there.  The telescopes quite literally occupy a sacred space on the island, although the actual summit is still untouched by the astronomers.  You can almost always find some sort of offering there – a flower, etc., left by someone to honor what can’t be observed with telescopes.

And of course there are the beaches and sunsets and wildlife and tropical flowers and fruits of the islands (and the Kona coffee!).  What more is there to say?  The place is paradise, and I am honored to be among the many astronomers who observe there!





  • […] of hours – such as video of the recent auroral happenings. From inside places like NASA, blogs like this one allow researchers to put up pictures and text to give a taste of the life inside a […]

  • […] Hello Cosmic Diary readers! I have recently started writing (here’s hoping for more consistency…) for NASA Goddard’s ‘Blueshift’ blog, particularly about travel and astronomy….both of which I love. Just the past few months, I’ve been on work-related trips to Germany, Hawaii, Santa Cruz, and New York City. You can read about my Hawaii trip (as well as other cool astro stuff by other people) here… […]

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