Ingrid Marie Kjelseth foran solteleskopet i La Palma øya

Ingrid Marie Kjelseth in at the Swedish Solar Telescope (SST), in the Canary Islands of Spain. Photo: Private

Adventurous Observations

Space is quite the distance away for us humans on Earth. So naturally, when you tell someone you study astrophysics, they go “that must be awfully theoretical?”. In some cases yes, but it does not have to be.

This article is written by Ingrid Marie Kjelseth

I never had a definite plan of which part of astrophysics I was going to pursue, but I found myself stumbling into solar physics. And I liked it. 

For obvious reasons, you will need a good theoretical tool box before embarking into research in astrophysics, but that is what a bachelor’s and master’s degree will provide you with.

When I was starting out with my master’s thesis, I was nervously excited, aware of some of the opportunities that lay ahead. As I was going to be analysing data from observations, it was possible for me to take part in an observational campaign at the Swedish Solar Telescope (SST), in the Canary Islands of Spain. As the thrill seeker I am, I was not going to turn down the opportunity to bring my office 2500 m up, to a world-renowned solar telescope in the tropics. 

view of the sky from La Palma Observatory.
Photo: Ingrid Marie Kjelseth

It was another world, as I was unfamiliar with all of the instruments at the telescope and had no prior experience of observations. Every day spent there was a new day to learn a little more. I grew more confident in my abilities to do the different procedures towards the end of the week. Something very important to remember, is to not fear asking questions.

You will never get anywhere without asking questions, learning from those more experienced. Everyone has been at the bottom of the stairs at one point in life, and have asked questions and learned to get a few steps up.

I tend to make it look like I know more than I actually do (don’t we all?), but I never learn as fast as when I let go of what others think, and just ask the questions.

There is definitely something to the expression “work hard, play hard”. We spent long hours in the basement of the observatory, looking at computer screens, but we also had some lovely hikes under the mountain sun. On days when the seeing was too poor to record any data, we would go down from the mountain and explore the island a little further. This included swimming in turqoise water, sunbathing on a volcanic beach, steep drives on narrow and scary roads to reach the day’s lunch destination and petting lots of cats. 

As we were home-bound, I left with a sun burn, good memories and a better understanding of what it means to be an observational solar physicist.

Similar to most areas in life, when I overcame the struggles, nothing was more fun. I am now in the last few months of my master’s thesis, and look back dreamingly to my trip to SST. My hopes and dreams in life includes looking at the Sun from new mountain tops, as breathtaking as the one we went to, and to contribute to great research.

Sunset from La Palma Observatory.
Photo: Ingrid Marie Kjelseth