This blog entry may strike some people as sexist. If you think so, then hear me now and believe me later, I will pummel you.
Because astronomy is for real men. Okay, fine, women, too. But wussies need not apply.
At least, I try to convince Mrs. Bad Astronomer of this. She’s skeptical. But professional astronomy isn’t for scaredy cats. Think about it: you’re up all night, which takes some stamina. You have to stay sharp, keep your wits. You’re around very large, heavy machinery which can be dangerous. There can be extremely caustic and scary chemicals involved (early exoplanet searches used hydrogen fluoride, a very scary chemical indeed). To top it off (literally!) you are usually on the apex of a very tall mountain, and observatories can be several stories tall, with easy access to the outside via a catwalk.
This is macho stuff.
Still don’t believe me? Well, then you should read the latest press release from the Keck Observatory. This premier observatory houses the giant twin 10-meter telescopes perched atop Mauna Kea – at an elevation of 14,000 feet. That is seriously way up there.
So far up there, in fact, it’s hard to breathe. What can you do? Well, as the press release notes, Keck just received a grant from the Hudson Foundation so they could buy air. The atmosphere is so tenuous at that height, that they need to ship in air just so people can breathe.
Now tell me again how astronomers are wimps. Take a deep breath of your mix of 78% N2 and 22%O2 at one atmospheric pressure so you can expound at length at how macho I am not. But don’t be surprised if I’m holding a 50 liter tank of liquid nitrogen behind my back, or an 80 square meter mirror, or a 64 megapixel camera, or a rocket capable of a million pounds of thrust to get my satellite orbiting the Earth. And don’t be surprised if I know how to use ‘em.
My toys are so better than yours.