Is your idea of a fantasy trip spending an astronomical night on Hawaii's Big Island, helping a renowned extrasolar-planet sleuth hunt for worlds orbiting other stars? This amateur astronomer's dream vacation will be auctioned off by the Astronomical Society of the Pacific (ASP) on the Internet as a fundraiser in mid-January.
The highest bidder and a guest will get to join Geoffrey Marcy and his team for a night at the (low-altitude) Keck Observatory control room while they take stellar spectra in their search for new planets — remotely controlling the 10-meter scope at the peak of Mauna Kea. Marcy and his colleagues have discovered 70 of the 100 or so extrasolar planets found since 1995.
The ASP is one of the world's largest and oldest astronomy-education groups; the goodwill it enjoys in the astronomical community enabled it to recruit Marcy for the fundraiser. He will host a dinner that evening with the auction winner and a guest, who after the observing run can sleep at the nearby Visiting Scientists' Quarters. The five-day, four-night package for two includes roundtrip airfare, resort accommodations, car rental, meals, and a VIP daytime tour of the twin Keck telescopes on the summit at nearly 14,000 feet. It is not expected to go cheap.
"In order to encourage participation by amateur-astronomy club members, and to help support amateur clubs," says ASP executive director Michael Bennett, "the society will donate 5 percent of the winning bid to a club selected by the winning bidder." The rest of the proceeds will go to the ASP's educational outreach programs.
The winner can time the trip to coincide with any of Marcy's scheduled observing nights in 2003.
More information is on the ASP's Web site at www.astrosociety.org, or call 415-337-1100.