Focuser Assembly

Summertime: Time for Repairs and Maintenance

What goes into the repair of a telescope? A lot of time and technical operations.

Our robotic observatory has a 10″ Ritchey–Chrétien optical system. The system focuses by moving the secondary mirror in and out using a very finely controlled motor assembly. After years of hard work, this little assembly got jammed up solidly. The company that made the telescope has moved onto bigger and better things, namely producing to-order optics. Contacting them resulted in contacting an original engineer (James Olson… yes…) who was willing and able to do repairs on the focuser.

The focuser was removed: an intricate couple of hours removing the secondary mirror, detaching all the electronics for the dew heater and focus motor, and then balancing the telescope, since it had lost a lot of mass from its front end. The focuser assembly was then shipped to James in Arizona.

The focuser was taken apart by James, polished, lubricated, re-assembled, and tested for days before he shipped it back to PEA. Once back at its home, the focuser had to be installed back into the spider (24 bolts), the secondary mirror installed onto the end of the focus assembly (three push bolts and three pull bolts), then the whole thing tested for proper movement. A dozen runs of the focuser later, the electronics and mechanics of the system were AOK and ready for the next phase. The next phase?

Collimation! Having removed everything out on the secondary mirror region, everything was out of alignment. All the optics have to be centered on the optical axis, and aligned perfectly both perpendicularly to the optical axis, and rotationally, as these are a matched pair of mirrors… Sigh. That was a time consuming but worthwhile task. Last night the system was star tested. Success! An image of Altair was used for final touches on collimation, and an image of SS Cygni was used to test scientific data usefulness. SS CYG is now in outburst (huzzah!) and the data are perfect! We have V magnitudes to +/- 0.004. We are back in action!#astronomy #photometry #repairs #observatory #robots#PhillipsExeterAcademy

Focuser Assembly

Focuser Assembly: The secondary mirror is in the black housing inside the telescopes truss tubing.

Focuser Assembly

Focuser Assembly

Focuser Assembly

Focuser Assembly

Electronic Controller for Focuser Assembly

Electronic Controller for Focuser Assembly. This unit controls heaters, fans, focus position and more.

Altair being imaged at perfect focus

Altair being imaged at perfect focus. Success!

Milky Way seen from Cerro Tololo.

Summer Activity

This has been a very busy summer!  Much of my time was spent traveling, so here are some blog posts of those travels for you to enjoy. The trip to Chile was possible with the kind and generous support of the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Astronomy in Chile Educator Ambassador Program (ACEAP), and Phillips Exeter Academy. If you are interested in learning more about the trip or astronomy in Chile, feel free to contact me: jblackwell AT exeter.edu

Arrival in Santiago

Visit to AURA

Under the Stars of Cerro Tololo: Night 1

Under the Stars of Cerro Tololo: Night 2

Panoramic Chile

Cerro Pachón & Gemini South Telescope

Cerro Tololo: A Summit of Telescopes

San Pedro de Atacama and ALMA

 

Final Tests then a New Case

Magnetometer Build Status

An update on the build status of the magnetometer. The board has been tested for correct voltages and other parameters. The three sensors have been wired with filter capacitors and connected for some software testing as well. They have not been placed in any permanent housing, and we are investigating best practices for that. We anticipate installation in the fall term once students are back on campus and we regroup.  Some images:

The completed main board

The completed main board

The display board

The display board

The boards and keyboard attached for testing

The boards and keyboard attached for testing

This is the first boot of the system! Success!

This is the first boot of the system! Success!

Final Tests then a New Case

Final Tests then a New Case

First time operations with all three sensors

First time operations with all three sensors

Initial testing of the logging software

Initial testing of the logging software. A lot has to be done to configure this a little better, but it is good to see it in operation.

The working end of the 16" SCT with the D7000 attached for prime focus work.

9 May 2016 Mercury Transit

The day started out as partly cloudy with a blustery wind up to about 15mph. At 6:30am, the sun was well up, and 45 minutes it both cleared the trees and was to start a morning-long experience with the little planet Mercury crossing its face. Those 45 minutes came and went, and the clouds stayed until about 10am, when things started to clear out. We even had a few strong rain showers, associated with the looming cumulonimbus clouds that were rolling by. The wind picked up, the skies cleared, and the sun came out to play!

We had two telescopes in operation. The newest, the 16″ SCT in the Kurtz Dome was operating with a newly constructed solar filter: Baader solar film and cereal boxes combined with hot melt glue and duct tape. This makes for an excellent off-aperture 6″ screen for the monster scope. The other was our Heliostat which has an inverted Byers fork mount that moves a primary flat mirror to reflect sunlight onto the secondary and then into a 6″ refractor waiting through a hole in the Chart House wall in the library. We had some excellent views and enjoyed visitors from NH and MA as well as several astronomy classes and some members of the astronomy club.

Mercury Transiting the Sun 9 May 2016

9 May Transit of Mercury seen through the 16″ SCT. A Nikon D7000 was used to snap this image which shows the small round dot of Mercury along with two sunspot groups.

16inch_workjing_end

The working end of the 16″ SCT with the D7000 attached for prime focus work.

heliostat_selfie

The heliostat in use. This is also a unique selfie opportunity.

Mercury Transit 9 May 2016

This May we have the opportunity to see the planet Mercury transit across the face of the Sun. The next time to see this event will be in 2019, so don’t miss this!  As with all astronomical studies involving the Sun: DO NOT OBSERVE THE SUN WITHOUT PROPER SAFETY: you only have one pair of eyes, so take care of them.  Only use approved filters for astronomical observation of the Sun and use them properly!  If you are unsure, contact your local astronomy club and ask.

This transit is visible in its entirety from Exeter. Timings are approximately as follows:

Event Time UT Time EDT
External Ingress 11:13 07:13
Internal Ingress 11:16 07:16
Greatest Transit 14:57 10:57
Internal Egress 18:38 14:38
External Egress 18:41 14:41

 

Gravitational Waves!

Observatory Director, John Blackwell, explains the recent discovery of Gravitational Waves

Gravitational Waves Explained: What The Discovery Means for Science

Last week, scientists made headlines with the announcement that they’d detected and recorded the first gravitational wave in human history. John Blackwell, Phillips Exeter science instructor and Director of the Grainger Observatory, explains how the discovery proves the last predicted outcome of Einstein’s theory of general relativity and gives astronomers the first new way of looking at the universe since Galileo pointed his telescope at the night sky.

sol_eshel_2016-02-13

Echelle Spectrograph Up and Running

Over the past few weeks, the high resolution spectrograph was down due to our working on installation of a new control PC and the replacement of the imaging fiber. The spectrograph is an Echelle design, utilizing a grating design that overlaps 50+ orders of spectra before then being split out into separate rows on an CCD image. The raw spectra image looks like a series of curved lines, but the software does its magic, sorts out which row is which and then reconnects them all into one long, high resolution spectra.

sol1

sol1

The wavelength calibration is done using a Thorium Argon lamp at the observatory. This lamp generates many well-known emission lines that the spectrograph software then uses to set wavelength values to the spectra of objects being studied. The ThAr spectrum is below with the spectral orders labeled and the identified emission lines wrapped in green boxes.

ThAr

ThAr

Once the software has all this figured out, each row is calibrated for wavelength and intensity and is saved in a tremendous FITS file. Below is one small piece of that FITS file for our Sun, the region around 656.3nm, the Hydrogen-alpha line:

H Aplha

H Aplha

Compressed to fit the screen here is a spectrum of our sun (actually clouds above our observatory, because imaging the sun directly would be the last thing we’d want to do with this device!). The image has been saved from Shelyak Instruments EShel software and calibrated within VSpec software. Wavelengths are in ångströms. The violet side shows that we have to work on radiometric correction for the instrument…. in progress😉

sol_eshel_2016-02-13

sol_eshel_2016-02-13

Resistors

Magnetometer in the Making

Space weather has long been an interest of mine, and of many of the students passing through my astronomy courses. The interaction of the Sun, it solar wind and our Earth’s magnetic field are just fascinating. Living in high latitudes, we sometimes are given the pleasure of seeing some aurora. In collaboration with the University of New Hampshire, we have taken on the building of a 3 axis fluxgate magnetometer. The unit is from a kit which you can check out here at the SAM-III Magnetometer page. If you are not quite so keen on soldering small components (only a few are surface mount), then you can also order a pre-built one…. but it costs more.

Here is our progress to date in photos.

Parts and pieces

Parts and pieces! This will be the magnetometer when it is all put together!

The keyboard

This is the primary user interface: a keyboard of 4 buttons. These are the only surface mount items to worry about.

The keyboard

This is the primary user interface: a keyboard of 4 buttons. These are the only surface mount items to worry about.

Resistors

Soldering the resistors onto the board. Next will come the capacitors and other parts.

Resistors

Resistors and capacitors in place.

Voltage tolerance test

Resistors and capacitors in place along with voltage regulators. Here we are ready to apply power for the first time to see if the boards voltages are within tolerances.

Lunar Eclipse Wows All!

September 27th lunar eclipse was an awesome experience from Exeter, NH. Well over 100 people came to the observatory for a visit and a look through the telescopes while the eclipse was under way.  At moonrise, I thought there was actually someone with a spotlight in the adjoining fields…. nope! That was the moon!  It was BRIGHT!  Bright enough to take this 5 second exposure of the fields and fog:

Fields and Fog with Full Moon

Fields and Fog with Full Moon

As the event ensued, we had a few cameras out there: one taking wide field shots of the event every 10 minutes or so, one taking closeup images with a 200mm telephoto, and some others roaming around. The following two images are of the event with the images stacked in PhotoShop. The moon’s dimming is very much evident here:

Eclipse series 1

Wide field series of images of the eclipse.

This image shows the eclipse with deeper exposures. The stars become evident as the moon dims. Note to the lower right the light pollution from Boston, to our south. As with all photos in this blog, click on the images for higher resolution!

Wide Field Series 2

Wide field series with deeper exposures.

This series below is from the 200mm lens and follows the eclipse from full moon (no eclipse) to totality.  Photoshop wass used to stack the images. Click for higher resolution.

Sept 27 2015 Lunar Eclipse Series

Sept 27 2015 Lunar Eclipse Series