A near earth asteroid, my toothbrush, and a Procyonid

My roommate, Gilbert, and I have very different schedules. The asteroid assigned to me and my team reaches its maximum altitude above the horizon much earlier in the night than the asteroid assigned to Gilbert and his team. On the nights we are both observing, Gilbert gets back from the observatory long after I have finished my observations and gone to bed. Gilbert is very considerate, always making a concerted effort to enter our shared room as quietly as possible on such nights so as not to wake me. This is just one of the many qualities that makes Gilbert a first-rate roommate. You’ll hear about another one of these qualities later. Last night, Gilbert and I were both scheduled to observe. My team’s last few observation time slots had unfortunately been canceled due to poor weather conditions, so I spent the day anxiously checking my weather app in the hopes that tonight would be the night to end our streak of bad luck. If you didn’t already know, the weather is an example of a chaotic system. A chaotic system is one where small errors in the initial conditions proliferate rapidly, often causing large discrepancies in our predictions. Even though what my weather app was telling me was optimistic for the potential of observing tonight, I knew I couldn’t get my hopes up until just before our scheduled observation time. As our observation time grew near, I was happy to see that the forecast remained relatively unchanged: mostly clear with some clouds. This meant we would finally get our second chance to step out onto the observation deck and take images of our asteroid. After getting the all-clear from the TAs on our observation notebooks, we were ready to get started. Heading up to the observation deck I felt giddy. I was especially excited because tonight was my turn to pilot the telescope, something I had been looking forward to since arriving at SSP. Our first task was to use the telescope to take flat field images, pictures we use to correct for distortions such as “dust donuts.” Once we had taken our flats, we used the bright star Arcturus to focus the telescope. Finally, we typed in the coordinates we had found using the JPL Horizons database and prepared the telescope to take images of our asteroid.

Team Smoky Mountains (the best team) searching for our asteroid

Despite a few unfortunately placed clouds, we managed to have a successful session, taking more than a few usable images. We even got the chance to learn how to use a Dobsonian telescope through instruction from Dr. Domingue in between getting images of our asteroid.

Kaylah searching for The Ring Nebula using the Dobsonian telescope at Sommers-Bausch

Our time on the observing deck was over too soon, and it was a quick reality check when I realized I still had a problem left to do on the problem set that was due in less than an hour. Somehow, I managed to reason my way through the problem (I’m sorry to the TA that had to try and follow my thought process), and I walked back to my room after a long day. Barely still awake, I put on my pajamas and grabbed my toothbrush before heading to the bathroom. uh-oh. I forgot my room key on my desk. My desk, which is in my locked room. That’s okay, I’ll just ask to borrow Gilbert’s key and return it to him after grabbing my own room key. uh-oh again. I forgot Gilbert is observing tonight. I have no option but to walk to the observatory from Arnett residential hall. In my pajamas. Holding my toothbrush. Once I finished my midnight stroll, I found myself outside the locked door to the observation deck. Nervously, I knock on the door. No response. I knock again. Not so nervously, I start calling Gilbert’s name through the tiniest crack in the hinges. In spite of what is a very effectively soundproof door, TA Jessica managed to hear my cries of despair and let me back onto the observation deck. These were not the conditions under which I was hoping I would return. Embarrassed, I described to Gilbert and his team my plight, and like the guardian angel he is, he handed me his key card. This is the other example of what makes Gilbert so great that I promised earlier. The next part of the night is a bit of a blur, but I remember walking all the way back to my room, grabbing my card, and then returning to the Sommers-Bausch observatory. After returning what Gilbert had so graciously lent to me, I noticed a light coming from the basement of the observatory. Upon going to investigate, to my surprise I found my beloved Smoky Mountains teammate Dragoş in the computer lab.

Team Smoky Mountains (Left: Dragoş, Middle: Me (Julius), Right: Kaylah)

He was helping someone with some last minute debugging of code written for the problem set. I decided to join him in helping out, and with three eyes poring over every line of the program, eventually we found what was throwing all of the errors. It turned out to be a missing parentheses, messing up the order of operations. After all of the advanced math we have been learning, it was PEMDAS that had failed us. As soon as the issue had been fixed, the computer lab lit up with the kind of celebration that only happens after collaborating with others to solve a difficult problem. We left the computer lab, but the night’s adventures had not ended yet. As if to salute fellow nocturnal creatures, a raccoon poked its head out from behind one of the trees that line the path back to the residential hall. We all marveled at the animal before heading our own ways back to our rooms, a final shared moment to cap off a memorable night. 

Our new friend, the masked bandit


Hi, my name is Julius, and I am a Junior at Bancroft High School in Worcester, Massachusetts. I love physics, chess, 2000s rap music, and rock climbing. I am beyond excited to be learning and working with people who share my interests and passion at SSP in beautiful CU  Boulder this summer!