24 Hours In The Life Of An Astronomer

By | December 21, 2019


Have you ever wondered what it must be like to be an astronomer? Let’s take you behind the scenes and see what 24 hours in the life of an ESO staff astronomer is like. The countdown for an exciting night with an observation run at the world´s most advanced optical telescope, the ESO VLT, has begun… This is the ESOcast! Cutting-edge science and life behind the scenes of ESO, the European Southern Observatory. Exploring the Universe’s ultimate frontier with our host Dr J, a.k.a. Dr Joe Liske. Hello and welcome to the ESOcast. In today’s episode, we’re going to follow a day in the life of Dieter Nürnberger. Dieter is a staff astronomer at ESO. His job is to support those scientists that have managed to get observing time on ESO’s Very Large Telescope at Paranal Observatory in Chile. Now, ESO receives about 1000 applications for observing time every six months, and only about one in five of those are actually selected. Dieter spends most of his working days helping the successful few to make ground-breaking discoveries. Dieter Nürnberger is on his way to meet the visiting scientists, Chris Tinney and his PhD student Stephen Parker, to team up for the night to come. The three have been observing together for several nights; today is their final evening and they are keen to get started. Over dinner they discuss plans for the night ahead. Well before sunset, they leave the Residencia and drive up the desert road to the building housing the VLT control room. At the control building they prepare the observations and check the set-up of the telescope. Observing time on these great telescopes is precious and delays must be avoided at all costs. Like a pilot checking his plane before departure, Dieter goes through a detailed check of “his” instrument, while the telescope operator does the same for the giant telescope. Everything is good to go, so the team goes to the telescope platform to inspect the weather. The astronomers have travelled far for a glorious view of the Universe, and here a glorious view of the sunset is included for free! As usual at Paranal, the conditions are perfect and Dieter and the visiting astronomers return with high expectations. So, here we go! This is when all the hard work and preparation pay off. For many astronomers, this is a long awaited moment when they finally get to use one of the world’s most advanced science machines to test their ideas of the Universe. Let’s join them and see how the first observations of the night are going. Cocooned in the high-tech environment of the control room, the observing programme is underway. Although the observation is running smoothly, it still requires the full attention of our team. The telescope and weather conditions are monitored continuously. Image quality is looking pretty good across the whole field. The team is using a very clever technique called methane imaging to detect brown dwarfs — objects too small and too cold to fuse hydrogen into their centres and which, therefore, can be called failed stars. What will the data reveal? There’s nice round images everywhere, which is what we like to see. The first half of the night is a success, and the team has already collected a lot of data. So, this is a good moment to shift down a gear. While Dieter and his companions stop over for their midnight lunch, the telescope doesn’t sit idle though. Their observations continue, being monitored by the telescope instrument operator. As the observations progress, it is vital that the support astronomer and the visiting astronomers are in constant dialogue: Is this the data quality that we expected to see? Do we continue with this target or do we proceed with the next one? Do we change the instrument set-up or do we keep it? With Dieter´s expert knowledge of the VLT and its instruments, the visiting astronomers can evaluate and decide their observing strategy in real time. At dawn the observation run comes to an end. Our team is tired but happy! The acquired data look extremely promising and now need to be analysed back in the home institute of the visiting astronomers. This is certainly the best data that anyone’s acquired for this sort of experiment before. OK, here comes the night report. The night report is handed over and the astronomers leave the control room building and head back to the Residencia. For the visiting astronomers this is the end of their observing run, so for them it’s time to say goodbye! Or rather, see you next time… But for Dieter the day isn’t quite over… As usual, after an observing run at the VLT, Dieter seeks some relaxation in the morning before going to bed. The swimming pool of the Residencia was built to humidify the extremely dry desert air, but can certainly be used for a quick swim. It’s an amazing place, isn’t it? But for Dieter, it’s all in a day’s work. Tonight he will sleep well, safe in the knowledge that the VLT has once again delivered first class data to its users. This is Dr J signing off for the ESOcast. Join me again next time for another cosmic adventure. ESOcast is produced by ESO, the European Southern Observatory. www.eso.org ESO, the European Southern Observatory, is the pre-eminent intergovernmental science and technology organisation in astronomy designing, constructing and operating the world’s most advanced ground-based telescopes.

55 thoughts on “24 Hours In The Life Of An Astronomer

  1. Cellsplitter Post author

    I'm also up all night 😛 I'm gonna be an astronomer! lol

    Reply
  2. TheMathKing Post author

    Fashion sense? For me, clothing is just a means to avoid going to prison for indecent exposure. Who cares about society and fashion when you have such interesting explorations in logic and science?

    Reply
  3. TheMathKing Post author

    My wife is a dancer and a chemical engineer, I don't have any problems! A man isn't defined by his clothes, he is defined by how awesome he is. I have always been able to attract women in a simple t-shirt with messy hair. Women love somebody with extreme confidence, and you can't be more confident than some turd dressed up like these guys.

    Reply
  4. star blitz Post author

    Man, I love this series. I hope they keep it up. I didn't think much of Cosmology or Astronomy years ago, but a lot of what I've learned now makes it soooo much more exciting and interesting than I could have imagined.

    Reply
  5. sheepwshotguns Post author

    sounds like a pretty sweet job. you guys looking for someone without any experience or education in the necessary fields?

    Reply
  6. xIntoThePitx Post author

    It could of done without the guy in the speedo briefs.

    Reply
  7. tsjoencinema Post author

    Seems risky to choose astronomy as a career. Who's going fund you and so on?

    Reply
  8. he_who_is_nobody Post author

    Wow, what an awesome job. I wish I could get a job like that.

    Reply
  9. jonnyhifi Post author

    Fascinating : really intersting to see the reality of the coal face of astronomy…

    thank you so much for making this.

    So heartening that this is done to gradually increase our knowledge of the universe, so we no longer have to rely on a 2000 year old story book.

    Reply
  10. Hipster420 Post author

    5 stars as always…And nice to know that somebody is looking for Brown Dwarfs. I would like to know what they came up with.

    Reply
  11. TheMathKing Post author

    It is a pointless argument, we both clearly have our priorities and interests outside of being smart. None of them, for me, are arguing on youtube and caring about "class". It's all about the mathbooks!

    Reply
  12. It's Maybe Me Post author

    Well a brown Dwarf is a failed star is it not? Like a planet between the size of Jupitor-the Sun. Sounds cool now that i think about it. Half way between a planet and a star. Why are you interested in them? Its not the planet-X thing is it 😛

    Reply
  13. junior1984able Post author

    r there lots of jobs out there for astronomers.,, ??

    Reply
  14. Chris Davies Post author

    hey, i really want to become an astronomer, but i've heard that the pay isn't too great. this doesn't put me off at all, but can someone maybe clarify around how much astronomers make in the uk? thanks

    Reply
  15. swissguy123 Post author

    @ChRIs23696 i would like to be an astronomer to 🙂 i think the salaries goes from 60k to 100k, so i guess its nice

    Reply
  16. Aaron Wilson Post author

    @Astronomy1996 After they finish their bachelor's degree in college Astronomer's will have to apply to graduate school, but if that graduate school really has an interest in them (and their research), they will usually be paid to go to graduate school. With that said, a path in astronomy isn't necessarily for everyone since it requires so much time in academia

    Reply
  17. BasicallytoBasics Post author

    @Astronomy1996 A ph.D is 8 years. So you'd be about 26yrs old.

    Reply
  18. Linerax Post author

    The best things in life are hard to come by.

    Not many good jobs for astronomy and decent pay. At least my eyes will see art in the sky. 😛

    Reply
  19. Bruce Banner Post author

    Elitist, short sighted vain dip-shit…You only exposing your insecurities and "issues".

    Don't criticize what you can't understand.

    Reply
  20. iDeist Post author

    Do not argue with an idiot like krazyblurtzcrx. He will drag you down to his level and beat you with experience.

    Reply
  21. BuGGyBoBerl Post author

    pretty one sided view. fashion sense is far less important for many things than anything else. the fact you think its more important than being intelligent (in any way), live a life you can enjoy etc. just shows me you dont do what you want to.

    Reply
  22. bonto Post author

    There's no such thing as a loser as long as you do what you love. Looks like you have some growing up to do.

    Reply
  23. dertTHEkidd Post author

    what a noble line of work, i admire astronomers.

    Reply
  24. dasnashorn100 Post author

    I almost switched jobs on the spot, but then I realized she said VLT control room, not BLT control room. Astronomy is still cool though.

    Reply
  25. SquashBox Post author

    The competition for getting a job in Astronomy is lower than being a lawyer. Since you want to be an astronomer the "competition" is just being interested at doing research. PH D isn't required if you want to work at a planetarium but is usually required for conducting cutting edge research. Just know that Ph D. students are paid to study (especially for math fields)

    Reply
  26. ChrisOcon Post author

    That last minute made this whole video awkward to watch O_O

    Reply
  27. Daniel G. Post author

    Although I'm majoring in Computer science I've always enjoyed learning about astronomy. I guess is my curiosity about how we fit in the universe and thirst for knowledge. However, I can still make contributions to astronomy by creating more advance technology for the astronomers, for example thanks to how computers have advance this far astronomy has taken advantage of that by using powerful telescopes and programs.

    Reply
  28. MostWanted GAMA Post author

    I'm so horrible at Algebra and Math above it.. No matter how hard i study and how many tutors help me.. I'm 22 years old now. Graduated in 2011. I took Math classes throughout my High School career and graduated with C's for Math. I really really want to be an Astronomer but i looked it up and in Majors classes like Calculus and Trigonometry are strongly required to take.. Space fascinates me. Its infinite vastness amazes me and its so mysterious. I don't know if it was the way my past teachers taught me as to why I'm not good at Algebra and higher math. Or is my brain really that stubborn and doesn't want to process the frustrating problems that i look at when i see Algebra on a Math paper? I honestly don't know. Is there any way i can still be an Astronomer without having the brain of a super computer? I'm just looking for answers. 

    Reply
  29. LOCD&LOOSE Post author

    I've always been interested in Astronomy and still am but now in school to become an architect. I'm taking physics now and could tell that it would be even harder when doing higher physics. But maybe I can design new stuff for space. Like a whole new space station or something.

    Reply
  30. ReachCarter Post author

    You get paid 100,000 and are required a phd to look at space?

    Reply
  31. Taylor _______ Post author

    I want to be an astronomer so bad I'm only thirteen but I've planned out my entire life I want to go to MIT I want to major in astronomy/astrophysics I want to live and work in Boston and I want 4 kids. I've never wanted anything more in my life. I'm in 8th grade taking advanced math with straight A+'s in all classes taking geometry over the summer and algebra 2 my freshmen year can't wait.. do you think I can do it?

    Reply
  32. Geovanny Jean Post author

    I want to be an astronomer but math is so hard for me

    Reply
  33. Elongatedman 45 Post author

    I am 13 and I want to be an astronmer but bad at math right know I am in algebra honours 1 class

    Reply
  34. Mirajul Haqe Post author

    It is my passion and I love mathmatics.I wish I will be a great astronomer. Can l will be a astronomer?

    Reply

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