Sunday, May 29, 2011

Memorial Day Tours on Palomar

I don't know that you will be able to see flags and firetrucks, but it is Memorial Day weekend and we are celebrating by extending our public tours past the usual ones heldon Saturdays & Sundays to include Monday, May 30 as well. Tours will be at 11:00 a.m., 1:00 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. Tours are $8 per person. More information on the tours can be found here.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Milky Way Over Palomar

Astronomer Iair Arcavi comes to Palomar Observatory to use the Hale Telescope to study supernovae as part of the Palomar Transient Factory survey. The survey is going quite well with over 1,110 supernovae discovered so far.

Iair also manages to find the time to do some nighttime photography with his digital SLR camera. I have posted some of his work here before (See his shot of the Milky Way over the Hale Telescope, his 2 Nights at the Palomar Observatory video and his composite of the Perseid meteor shower).

He managed to shoot some more dramatic images of our Palomar Skies just this last week. Both images nicely show off our domes, the heart of the Milky Way Galaxy and how light pollution is brightening our skies.

This image shows the dome that used to house the 18-inch Schmidt, Palomar's first telescope. The constellation of Scorpius can be seen just to the left of the dome. Note the bright sky glow to the southwest.

The 18-inch Schmidt is now retired but in its lifetime it was used for a tremendous amount of important work. For instance, just yesterday was the anniversary of that telescope being used to make the 1992 discovery of asteroid Braille (1992 KD). Astronomers Eleanor Helin and Kenneth Lawrence found the asteroid as a part of the Palomar Planet-Crossing Asteroid Survey. Just seven years later Braille was photographed as NASA's Deep Space 1 spacecraft flew past it.

Another of Iair's photos shows the Milky Way behind the dome of Palomar's automated 60-inch telescope. The 60-inch telescope is used nightly to perform follow-up observations on the new transient sources discovered through the Palomar Transient Factory survey. It also is a rapid-response telescope that gives astronomers a look at the optical glow of gamma-ray bursts.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

An Update on Robo-AO

Last week just about everything here on Palomar Skies was related to PALM-3000, the new upgrade to the Hale Telescope's adaptive-optics system. Readers of this blog may remember that PALM-3000 isn't the only game in town when it comes to adaptive optics on Palomar.

The other program that is pushing the envelope is Robo-AO, a laser-guide star adaptive-optics system for Palomar's automated 60-inch telescope. The Robo-AO team was on the mountain last week and Christoph Baranec, Principal Investigator for the program snapped these false-colors photos of their ultraviolet laser propagating out of the dome.

The laser makes use of Rayleigh scattering, which will ultimately help their system to correct for turbulence in the lower 10 kilometers (~6 miles) of the atmosphere. This will allow the 60-inch telescope to take very sharp images of a wide variety of astronomical objects.

(See that sort of blurry star trail, just to the right of the laser beam? That is the globular star cluster known as Omega Centauri.)

The Robo-AO program is still in the engineering phase. Expect a full science demonstration observing run to take place later this year.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Zooming in on PALM-3000

Here are three photos that show off the PALM-3000 adaptive-optics system.

The first is a wide shot of the 200-inch Hale Telescope:

In this view the only easily noticeable changes to the telescope are the hoses and cables hanging from the telescope's south side. The instrument itself is housed in the telescope's Cassegrain cage and can be seen in this wide-angle photo:

The photo gives a feel for some of the complexity of the system through the number of cables visible, but there is much more that the image does not capture. At the heart of the system is the new 3388 actuator higher order deformable mirror. Here you can see the back end of it here:

The weather has not been favorable for the first two nights of commissioning the instrument. The forecast for tonight looks good. Let's hope that the weather cooperates as tonight is the third and final night for this observing run. On Saturday the instrument comes off the telescope until their next observing run in June.

North County News Visits Palomar Observatory

On Saturdays & Sundays guided tours of the Hale Telescope take place 3 times daily. North County News was up recently to see the action. Here is their video:

The public tours do not go into the control room, but they do get rave reviews. If you are going to be in the area, why come on over for a visit?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Another Look at Installing PALM-3000

Here is another time-lapse movie of yesterday's installation of the PALM-3000 adaptive optics system onto the 200-inch Hale Telescope. This is shorter, covers less time, but is closer to the action as was shot with a digital SLR from on the observing floor.

Installing PALM-3000

Yesterday, the new upgrade to our adaptive-optics system, the PALM-3000, was first installed on the Hale Telescope. The webcam in the dome of the 200-inch telescope is currently offline to the outside world (sorry about that), but we were able to use it to capture images of the work taking place.

Here is almost 12 hours of work, compressed into just under 4 minutes

How did the first night go? Fog and drizzle kept the dome from opening. Thankfully, the weather is improving as the team has two more nights on this observing run, before the the instrument is used again in June.

More pictures and another video will follow as soon as things get put together.

Shield Your Outdoor Lights

Here is a short video on the importance of shielding outdoor lighting:

The great thing about shielding outdoor lighting as shown in the video is that more light is directed where it is actually needed. Instead of causing glare or shining upward into the sky the light source does not need to be as bright. This means that a lower wattage lighting fixture can be used which will save money.

In spite of the logic behind using fully-shielded lighting, lights like the ones shown below continue to be installed across the country.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Palomar Observatory - A Timescape

Last weekend astronomer Roger Griffith was using the 200-inch Hale Telescope to hunt for cold brown dwarfs. His observations were made to follow-up on data collected with the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer mission. In addition to his time on the telescope, Roger managed to dash out to continue work on a video of time-lapse photography that he had begun shooting at Palomar during one of his observing runs last year.

Here is the result:

Palomar Observatory - A Timescape from Roger Griffith on Vimeo.

Glider Over Palomar

On a warm day it is not unusual to see a glider spiraling over Palomar Mountain. Occasionally they come close enough to the observatory that you can actually hear them.

We had gliders out last Saturday when Brad Eells of the Forest Fire Lookout Association took this photo:

Brad took this unique photo from the old fire lookout tower at High Point, which looks down on the observatory. To the left of the glider are the domes of the 48-inch Samuel Oschin Telescope and the much larger 200-inch Hale Telescope. To the right of the glider is the dome of the 24-inch telescope and the observatory's water tower.

For another shot of a glider over the observatory, check out this post from 2009.

I know that blog posts here have been rare lately, that is starting to change as I have plenty of material to share. Be sure to check back for more this week.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Coming Soon: PALM-3000

Much of the behind-the-scenes work at Palomar Observatory lately has been directed toward supporting the upgrades for our new adaptive optics-system, known as PALM-3000. When fully functional, the system is expected to be the first of its kind and allow ground-based astronomers to get their clearest view yet in the visible portion of the spectrum (all other systems currently operate in the near infrared portion of the spectrum).

We had the final components for the system delivered to the dome of the Hale Telescope today.

These may look like just a bunch of crates, but inside are the final components that will be installed to bring this system alive.

More on this amazing system, which is expected to achieve "first light" later this month, will be posted here over the next few weeks, but in the meantime feel free to read this article on the systems new deformable mirror.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Catwalk Panorama

Hopefully this panorama will show up on all Web browsers. It is an interactive Photosnyth panorama shot a few minutes ago from the catwalk of the 200-inch Hale Telescope. In it you can see the observatory's water tower, the dome of the 48-inch Samuel Oschin Telescope and the dome of the 18-inch Schmidt telescope.

Here is a direct link to the panorama. I hope to shoot more of these in the near future to give people a sense of what it is like to be at Palomar Observatory.