Monday, June 19, 2006

Astronomy Internship - Day 9

I ended up printing off another ~60 pages of journal articles yesterday afternoon but haven't had too much time to peruse them. I'm still waiting for word from my advisor on some clarifications on what our research goals are.

But of course, the highlight of the day was the trip up to Laguna Observatory. So here's the grand tour:

The trip started off with the long drive up into the mountains. When leaving the main highway, we had already gone from an elevation of a few hundred feet, to 4,000.

By the time we reached the visitor parking, we'd passed 5,000. Along the way were several signs warning that cows may be on the road. Dr. Sandquist warned us to be careful about this since, in California, there's apparently laws that make the drivers liable for cows on the road.

Once we reached the visitor parking, we had to walk up another trail that probably climed another few hundred feet:

Meanwhile, the professors drove:

But eventually we made it to the top:

Inside one of the buildings at the main facility was a small museum with some interesting items.

This one is an antique telescope that was built around 1800.

This piece is known as a "blink comparator". Back when astronomy was done on glass photographic plates, astronomers would put two plates of the same field of sky in the left and right piece, align them, and then the device would project an image of them onto a screen at the bottom, flipping between the two images. This would allow astronomers to pick out objects that changed between frames. A device similar to this one was used by Clyde Tombaugh to discover Pluto in just this manner. It also works well for stars that vary in brightness.

This device is a microdesensitometer. A photographic plate would be placed on the glass table and a light on the top arm would shine through it to a device which would measure the intensity underneath. By moving it around the plate it was possible to generate graphs of the brightness levels such as this one:

After exploring the museum (which contained many more items that wouldn't be of too much interest if you're not into all sorts of techincal stuff), we headed out to see the telescopes.

The first stop was the largest on the mountain which housed a 40" telescope (telescopes are measured in the diameter of their primary mirror).

First thing inside was the aluminizing chamber. Since telescope mirrors are made of glass, they have to be coated with a thin layer of aluminum. Eventually they get dirty, and the coating has to be redone. This is the device that's used to do so.

Here's one of the tanks of liquid nitrogen that are used to keep the CCD camera cool which I'll explain more about in a later post.

And finally, here's the 40" telescope. It's currently in the process of being refurbished, so the imaging devices aren't attached at the time. Our tour guide pointed out that this telescope weighs somewhere around 47,000 pounds!

This is the control room for the telescope. It's in the next room over. While there was originally a window from this room to the room housing the telescope, it has since been boarded over to prevent any light from the computers from interfering with the imaging. Thus, the telescope (as are all major observatories), is completely controlled by the computers.

While this may not look like much, this device is known as a flat field. It probably doesn't mean anything to you know, but will once I finish up my next Astronomical Data post.

Again, this image may not look like anything special, but what you'll notice is that next to the standard lightbulb is another one. This one is red and only red lights are used while observing. This is because red light allows astronomers to still see but not lose their night vision.

This dome will eventually house a telescope that is being built jointly with my school (University of Kansas), known as the ULTRA. Essentially it's an ambitious project to see if it's possible to construct a telescope mirror to research grade specifications using graphite as opposed to glass. The primary mirror will be 16" in diameter but be light enough to be carried by a single person, whereas glass mirrors of the same diameter will weigh several thousand pounds. The telescope was originally planned to go into operation in fall of 2005, but as with anything, it's overschedule and is now expected fall of 2006. Another interesting note is that this telescope will be completely automated, which means that we'll be able to controll it from Kansas!

These buildings are the dormatories for observers. You'll notice they have no windows.

This telescope houses the 21" telescope.

This is the 21" scope.

This nifty device is a microwave transmitter which allows for direct communication with the campus. Images can be taken with the telescopes on the mountain and immediately downloaded to campus. The small security camera is the live webcam which I posted the image for yesterday.

That concluded our tour so I (looking not so angry) and the rest of the group headed back down to the main buildings for dinner:

Once dinner was over it was time to do a little bit of observing.

This is the guest observatory which houses another 21" telescope.

That would be the scope.

Sadly, I couldn't get any images through the eyepiece of camera, but I will point out that they were fantastic.

From the top of the mountain we could see Tiajuana off in the distance.

At around 11:00, we concluded our observing and headed back to campus.

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