UCO/Lick Observatory

George H. Herbig

Observational Astronomy Workshop

October 6 - October 10, 2016

Lick Observatory, Mt Hamilton, CA

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Personal Items

Accommodations on Mount Hamilton are spartan.
  • Please bring your own personal towel(s), sufficient for your stay on Mount Hamilton.
Be advised that there are no personal hygiene items available for purchase on Mount Hamilton. For completeness, participants are reminded to bring sufficient supplies of:
  • toothbrush(es)
  • toothpaste
  • soap
  • shampoo
  • other personal/sanitary items, etc.
Believe it or not, participants have overlooked these items in the past.


One activity is a walking tour of Lick Observatory to introduce the telescopes, facilities, and science being undertaken on Mount Hamilton. Be sure to wear comfortable walking shoes. The walking tour involves climbing 100s of steps and a total walk of over a mile. Please notify us in advance if you require any special mobility/access consideration(s). After safety, science takes priority. It may not be possible to enter certain areas, or remain in certain areas for prolonged intervals, if doing so compromises science operations (e.g. delaying acquisition of calibration data; distracting observers). Additionally, please be advised that staff astronomers remain on-call and may be required to provide support for multiple programs and/or instruments.

Conserve Water

Water is a valuable and scarce resource, particularly so at many observatories worldwide, located in remote and/or desert environments, where in many cases water has to be trucked-in at great expense.

Lick Observatory draws water from springs on the slopes of Mount Hamilton and processes the water in an on-site treatment plant. Mount Hamilton water ranks highly in the State of California's regularly mandated water quality assessments. It is safe to drink water from faucets, spigots and fountains. However, after multiple years of drought in California, these supplies are a concern.

Be proactive in conserving water: close faucets properly, take short (navy) showers, report leaks.


The weather can be unpredictable. For a forecast, before you depart for Mount Hamilton, visit the following URL:

Weather Forecast for Mount Hamilton, California


Even if the weather will be warm during the day it can be surprisingly cold and windy at night. Participants and observers will be spending significant time outside or in unheated telescope enclosures. Bringing a warm coat, hat, and gloves and to dress in layers is recommended.


It is recommended to bring a flashlight since participants will be walking between buildings in the dark and flashlights provided with the dorm keys are small (and not all sets of keys have flashlights on the keychains).

Keep a flashlight and your keys on your person at all times to avoid being locked-out of accommodations, Diner and other facilities. Lost, damaged or unreturned keys shall incur penalty replacement charges.

Electronics & Communications (Updated 2016-10-02)

The dormitory rooms and telescope enclosures have WiFi, so bring your laptops (and power supplies) with you (WiFi passwords when you arrive).

The curriculum includes a practical data reduction session. Although not a requirement, participants are recommended to install some industry standard software on their laptop computers in advance of the workshop:

  • Python version 2.7.5 or higher (but NOT Python 3), with packages numpy, scipy, astropy and astroscrappy.
  • SAOImage ds9 data visualization application.
  • Optionally, participants may consider also installing IRAF, the Image Reduction and Analysis Facility.
Mobile phone reception is unreliable on Mount Hamilton. If you leave your phone powered-on, it is likely to run down its battery searching for a signal within a few hours. Ensure you bring the appropriate charging device/cable.


For those who own a pair of binoculars, it may be rewarding to bring them with you, to enhance your enjoyment of the landscape, wildlife and night sky while on Mount Hamilton.

Flora & Fauna

The summit of Mount Hamilton is a remote, rural setting with abundant wildlife. Take sensible precautions when moving around: it is recommended to stay on hard-scaped areas and to wear full-length pants and socks, thus reducing contact with poison oak, deer ticks (which are vectors for several diseases, including Lyme) and other hazards. Snakes are not uncommon, the only dangerous variety on Mount Hamilton being rattlesnakes (with flat, diamond shaped, head and ringed tail). It is easy to confuse docile non-venomous gopher snakes with rattlesnakes. Thus, all snakes should be treated with caution. Avoid walking too close to undergrowth and/or leaf litter, where snakes may be nestling. Rodents are common in and around observatory precincts, most often evident by their 1--3 mm long, dark, ovoid faeces -- particularly in hidden or secluded places. Rodent debris should be disposed of carefully, using tools, a facemask and gloves to minimise exposure to severe diseases (such as Hantavirus, Weil's disease, etc). Larger mammals, deer, wild pigs and bobcats are year-round residents on Mount Hamilton. Likewise foxes, skunks, and raccoons, which supplement their diet by accessing trash cans. Occasionally, coyotes are seen. As with all wild animals they can be aggressive when cornered or followed. Rabies is present in California. Mammal faeces may contain several diseases (e.g. raccoon worm). Bears are absent from the Diablo Range of which Mt Hamilton is the second highest peak. Even more rarely, mountain lions (pumas/cougars) are encountered. Unless sick or starving, these big cats actively avoid humans. However, if you do encounter a mountain lion, DO NOT RUN AWAY (which has the effect of triggering feline hunting instincts). Try to make yourself appear large (e.g. by opening your jacket). If the cat does not move away, make some noise. In extremis, try throwing stones at the animal. Bugs and arachnids are ubiquitous. Those to be most aware of are scorpions, centipedes and one variety of spider. It is a good idea to bring slippers to wear in the accommodations. Check the inside of all footwear before wearing, since scorpions and centipedes which tend to be nocturnal can deliver painful stings and poisonous bites, respectively. Black widow spiders are comparatively rare, preferring minimal disturbance, generally sheltering in dark undisturbed places such as rarely-used closets. If left untreated, black widow bites can be fatal.

Workshop Attendance DOES NOT Constitute Instrument Check-out

Regrettably, attendance at the Observational Astronomy Workshop DOES NOT constitute a check-out on any of the facility instruments on Mount Hamilton. It only serves as exposure to, and introduction to, a subset of the Mount Hamilton instrument suite.

Check-outs are instrument specific. Hence, separate check-outs are required for each instrument (e.g. Shane+Kast, Nickel+CCD2, Shane+ShaneAO+ShARCS, CAT+Hamilton). Local check-outs must be scheduled separately in advance and require several hours of interaction between observer(s) and Mount Hamilton staff, including supervision of night time object acquisitions.

Similarly, remote check-outs must be scheduled separately in advance (and can only be considered following completion of a local check-out). Remote check-outs typically require a few minutes interaction between observer(s) and Mount Hamilton staff and consist largely of assistance in connecting communications, relaying information and reminders, and assisting with configuring the instrument.