California 2018

   February 2018

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Santa Monica

Tuesday February 20th 2018

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I was supposed to fly on SOFIA. It's a modified 747 with a big hole cut in the side, so that it can carry an infrared telescope. Flying in the stratosphere gives you excellent observing conditions.

I'd had a vague possibility to fly on it last year, but it clashed with some important things. So this year when the chance came up again, I jumped at it. But then the flight my observations were scheduled for needed to carry some technicians so there was no space for me. I thought it was all off.

But then, unexpectedly, they said I could fly on an earlier flight if I wanted. I wouldn't then see my own observations being carried out, but still, it seemed like it would be a good experience. Looked like things were on again.

Then, there was a tense wait while I filled out all the necessary forms. This was supposed to be done many weeks in advance but the changing plans meant that was not possible. So there was every chance I wouldn't be able to fly just because the paperwork couldn't be completed in time.

But it was completed. I was cleared for access to the airfield where SOFIA takes off from, cleared to visit NASA facilities, and very excited. I booked flights to California.

And then I got an email saying that SOFIA's maintenance was overrunning and the flight was cancelled. It was a defeat snatched from the jaws of victory that were themselves in the jaws of defeat.

With the flight already booked, I decided to snatch a victory from the jaws of that defeat and go to California anyway. I stayed in Santa Monica, enjoying sunshine in February while London shivered in an unseasonably cold winter.

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SpaceX launch

Thursday February 22nd 2018

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I was very jetlagged, and I was only going to be away for a few days so I didn't want to adjust. So I got into a good routine of getting up at 5am and going out for pre-dawn walks in the cold.

The only people out and about in Santa Monica at 5am were homeless or unhinged or both. One morning there seemed to be more people about than usual, and as I walked along Ocean Drive, a woman standing by the railings moved slightly to block my path. I'd been in a world of my own and thought I was about to get pestered for change.

"You know there's a launch happening in a few minutes, right?" she asked me. I did not. I had no idea, but it turned out there was a SpaceX rocket being launched from an air base 100 miles away. She was out to watch it and kindly enough, thought a random passerby in a jetlagged haze would appreciate knowing that.

Luckily I had my camera with me, and I just barely had time to get it out of my bag when a bright orange glow appeared over the horizon. It was too far away for us to hear anything but it looked pretty epic, rising into the morning sky. We could clearly see the boosters separating as the payload continued out into space.

It was an incredible stroke of luck that I'd been up early enough, had my camera with me, and chanced to meet someone who told me about the launch. I was in an excellent mood as the sun rose.

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Griffith Observatory

Friday February 23rd 2018

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My trip was no holiday. I had a lot of work I wanted to do, so I spent my time getting up before dawn, watching beautiful sunrises, then drifting from cafe to cafe in Santa Monica, working hard via the public wifi.

By Friday afternoon I'd done most of what I needed to, so I went sightseeing. I'd heard that Griffith Observatory had good city views so I went there.

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Twilight at the observatory

Friday February 23rd 2018

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It seemed a bit silly for an astronomer to go sightseeing at an observatory. But the city views were worth the trip up into the Hollywood Hills. I was loving the sunshine and blue skies as the sun set, even though it was windy and cold.

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Star trails

Saturday February 24th 2018

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I made a timelapse animation of the night skies over LA. For this image, I stacked all the individual frames. Orion was high over the city while I took the photos and you can see its trails, in amongst all the planes going by.

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Santa Monica beach

Saturday February 24th 2018

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Santa Monica had been pretty quiet during the week but it got busier at the weekend. I went to the beach and wandered along the pier. I paddled in the Pacific, looking south along the coast and thinking that I would just have to travel about 5,000 miles south and I could be back in Chile.

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Pier

Saturday February 24th 2018

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On the pier there was suddenly a crowd of people blocking my way. I thought there was some event happening, but it was just people photographing the sign marking the end of Route 66.

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Laguna Beach

Sunday February 25th 2018

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I visited my cousin who lives near LA, and we went to Laguna Beach. I soaked up the sunshine as best I could, knowing that in a few short hours I'd be back in grey London.

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