A Darker View

Telescope Controls

Fuses, relays, and contactors in the Keck 2 telescope control system

After weeks of being pretty much silent on the controversy, Governor Ige has issued a statement on the ongoing issue of TMT construction. It was big news around this place, pretty much the entire staff of Keck Observatory piled into our big conference room to watch the governor’s address live.

Mauna Kea Summit

The true summit of Mauna Kea

The announcement contained no real surprises, rather a set of pragmatic proposals that attempt to move the issue forward. The governor outlined his proposals as a list of bullet points. These may seem to be merely proposals, but I would be very surprised these proposals would be announced without at least the tacit agreement of the various parties involved. There must have been a good deal of behind-the-scenes negotiation.

From Governor Ige’s press release

First, my responsibility begins with the State of Hawai‘i and our need to change the way we exercise responsibility for the mountain.

  1. We will change the management of the entire summit, all of which is state land, to bring cultural voices into the leadership structure so that all acts from here forward are sensitive to and observant of culture.We are establishing a Mauna Kea Cultural Council to work with the Board and the Department of Land and Natural Resources, and the Governor’s Office, to do a better job.Among the tasks for this group will be the review of all leases and lease renewals, of all proposed rules impacting the mountain especially those relating to access, of any EIS preparation and any cultural impact assessments, of decommissioning plans and execution, working on leasing portions of the mountain to cultural groups, and the reconciliation of the various other uses of the mountain including native species protection and forestry.We are currently putting the group together and hope to make an announcement on that shortly. In asking people to be part of this work, I am not making support for TMT a requirement of those who agree to serve…
  2. We are also committed to doing a much better job of monitoring compliance with all activities under any leases or sub-leases, and to act immediately if there are issues that need resolution. Such action may include the reopening of current leases or the suspension of processing extension requests.

Governor Ige asked the University of Hawai‘i to take 10 significant actions related to enhanced stewardship in general and to the Thirty-Meter Telescope (TMT), specifically.

  1. Accept its responsibility to do a better job in the future.
  2. Formally and legally bind itself to the commitment that this is the last area on the mountain where a telescope project will be contemplated or sought.
  3. Decommission – beginning this year – as many telescopes as possible with at least 25 percent of all telescopes gone by the time TMT is ready for operation.
  4. Restart the EIS process for the University’s lease extension and conduct a full cultural impact assessment as part of that process.
  5. Move access rules that significantly limit and put conditions on non­cultural access to the mountain expeditiously through the process.
  6. Require training in the cultural aspects of the mountain and how to be respectful to the cultural areas for anyone going on the mountain.
  7. Substantially reduce the length of its request for a lease extension from the Board of Land and Natural Resources.
  8. Voluntarily return to full DLNR jurisdiction all lands (over 10,000 acres) not specifically needed for astronomy.
  9. Ensure full use of its scheduled telescope time.
  10. Make a good faith effort to revisit the issue of payments by the existing telescope now as well as requiring it in the new lease.

There is a bit more to the announcement and press release, I included only a section of it here. Click through to get the whole text. The governor made his points as a list, but the particular items that struck me as interesting is a somewhat shorter list.

  1. The TMT constuction may proceed, the protesters may protest, but laws will be enforced and the road kept open
  2. A high level cultural advisory committee will be formed
  3. There may be future rules on limiting public access
  4. The scheduled removal of several telescopes

I expect TMT construction to re-start soon. My personal guess is not this week, but not much later than that, next week? I expect to be on the mountain quite a bit in the coming month, my project schedule is reaching the installation phase in the dome. It would be interesting to be there when the first trucks arrive.

A new advisory council? The Kahu Kū Mauna council has fulfilled this role in the past, but that is under OMKM, the governor’s proposal is significantly higher level. I hope that any new council includes members of the current Kahu Kū Mauna council as they bring a great deal of knowledge and experience into the discussion.

The public access issue and the governor’s expressed feelings about the current usage of the mountain are very interesting. The visitor load on the summit has become an issue, many expressing the feeling that too many people are up there. I have mixed feelings on this myself, it can be quite crowded on the summit, particularly at sunset and on snow days. But how do you tell people that they can not go somewhere that is essentially a public place?

I have heard plans proposed that would ban public vehicles on the summit, installing a shuttle bus service to provide access in a more controlled manner. But this has issues as well. How much would it cost? Would there be passenger fees? Too high a fare would discourage local people from visiting their mountain, creating resentment. I do think the state needs to prioritize freeing up some real money to improve the public facilities at Hale Pohaku whatever happens. Decent sized parking lots are needed now and could provide parking for a shuttle service.

The removal of 25% of the existing facilities over the next decade? No surprise, the goal has always been to reduce the footprint of astronomy on the mountain, the CMP states this. The schedule is new and would include at least three telescopes by my interpretation. One of these is already scheduled to occur, the decommissioning of CSO. Two others? This gets more interesting. Hoku Kea is the first obvious candidate, the student telescope has been plagued with operational issues since a botched renovation. It has never been properly functional since. All of the other telescopes are operational. So which ones? That makes for a contentious question.

Hopefully this is the turning point in the entire process. TMT allowed to proceed and concessions from the university on the management of Mauna Kea. This will not satisfy the hardcore telescope opponents, but there were no realistic solutions for that situation in any case. What does happen when the first trucks of equipment try to get to the summit is another question.

Engineering is full of these little exercises. A set of numbers that must be arranged to achieve the desired result. In this case I need to keep time in a microcontroller, as there are events that I wish to occur every few seconds.

If you are using a crystal oscillator with the microcontroller, the frequency is reasonably accurate, about 50ppm at 25°C. As long as your application does not require high precision time, the result is a decent clock. Some form of clock or timekeeping is a very typical function in many microcontroller projects.

To do this I have a standard set of subroutines that I simply import into each microcontroller project. Well tested and used for years, requiring little effort to set up each time. The routines count seconds, minutes, hours, and even days and months if needed. This time is different… I am using a PIC18F25K80 in place of the PIC16’s I have used for decades. A newer processor, little differences in the hardware and instruction set… I need to rewrite the code.

PIC18F Timer

The layout of timer 2 in the PIC18F25K80 microcontroller

Timer 2 on the PIC18F25K80 is typical of timers found in both the PIC16 and PIC18 family. There are always a handful of timers in any microcontroller, usually with different arrangements for different tasks. At least one will be set up much like this one, with a comparator to provide a repeating fixed and timed interval.

Continue reading Creating a Clock in a Microchip PIC18F…

Two Lasers

Two AO lasers aimed at the galactic center with a large red glow coming from Kilauea

As the Dawn spacecraft settles into lower orbits around Ceres the photos of this small world are of ever better resolution. The mysterious bright spots have slowly resolved into an interesting arrangement of multiple spots. Despite many wild claims on YouTube and UFO websites of alien cities or crashed spacecraft, the spots are looking more and more like a set of ice outcroppings. They are still fascinating, if just a bit more ordinary than some would hope.

My bet? Some sort of cryovolcano.

JPL Press release

NASA’s Dawn mission captured a sequence of images, taken for navigation purposes, of dwarf planet Ceres on May 16, 2015. The image showcases the group of the brightest spots on Ceres, which continue to mystify scientists. It was taken from a distance of 4,500 miles (7,200 kilometers) and has a resolution of 2,250 feet (700 meters) per pixel.

“Dawn scientists can now conclude that the intense brightness of these spots is due to the reflection of sunlight by highly reflective material on the surface, possibly ice,” Christopher Russell, principal investigator for the Dawn mission from the University of California, Los Angeles, said recently.

Dawn arrived at Ceres on March 6, marking the first time a spacecraft has orbited a dwarf planet. Previously, the spacecraft explored giant asteroid Vesta for 14 months from 2011 to 2012. Dawn has the distinction of being the only spacecraft to orbit two extraterrestrial targets.

The spacecraft has been using its ion propulsion system to maneuver to its second mapping orbit at Ceres, which it will reach on June 6. The spacecraft will remain at a distance of 2,700 miles (4,400 kilometers) from the dwarf planet until June 30. Afterward, it will make its way to lower orbits.

Ceres White Spots

This image of Ceres is part of a sequence taken by NASA’s Dawn spacecraft on May 16, 2015, from a distance of 4,500 miles (7,200 kilometers). Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA


The Caltech Submillimeter Telescope (CSO) observing into the dawn

A photographer needs a guide around Keck for the night? Setup time-lapse cameras throughout the facility? Sounds like fun… Sign me up.

Two Lasers

Two AO lasers aimed at the galactic center with a large red glow coming from Kilauea

Thus I meet local photographer Jason Chu at Keck in the afternoon and help him drag a mountain of camera gear into the summit facility. We loaded quite a pile onto the cart, eight full DSLR cameras and a stack of tripods. The plan is to set them up in the domes for the night then re-collect the cameras in the morning. Six cameras in the domes and a couple more to carry through the night.

Two lasers, both aimed at the galactic center were on the schedule for the second half of the night. Andrea Ghez and her team having time on both telescopes. The weather looked a bit problematic, thick cirrus covered the sky, but the forecast called for clearing after midnight.

Jason came with a carefully drafted plan, where to set and aim each camera, timer settings, lens choice, all carefully considered. A pretty good plan too, only a few details needed changing as we placed each camera. Four cameras in Keck 1, another two in Keck 2. One camera placement was my idea… Clamped to the Keck 1 dome where it would track with the telescope. I had spent a few minutes in the machine shop putting together a solid camera clamp.

Unfortunately the clouds did not clear as predicted, thin cirrus hanging on through the night. It was clear just to the west, but stubbornly would not give us the clear skies we needed overhead. Several times it looked to clear, but the clouds would thicken again. We did have both lasers on sky for a few minutes, just enough for a few photos and not long enough to do any science.

With high hopes for some dual laser time-lapse I was ready to set up my own camera, but ended up with only a few still photos. Jason got a few nice shots during that short time, having eight cameras helped make the most of those few minutes. I did get a nice video clip of the telescope shot by rotating the dome with a camera.

Jason is working on a personal project and will be out shooting more images in the dark. I will certainly feature the results of his effort here on DarkerView when he finishes. For myself? I will have to schedule another opportunity to go up and shoot some laser time-lapse. There is an intriguing night at the beginning of July on the schedule with both Keck lasers. I also need to mail Jason a camera remote, an accomplishment that only one bit of camera gear got left behind.

W. M. Keck Observatory press release

Ultra-Diffuse Galaxy

A collection of unidentified blobs was discovered toward the Coma cluster of galaxies, using the Dragonfly Telephoto Array. Credit: P. Van Dokkum, R. Abraham, J. Brodie

An international team of researchers led by Pieter van Dokkum at Yale University have used the W. M. Keck Observatory to confirm the existence of the most diffuse class of galaxies known in the universe. These “fluffiest galaxies” are nearly as wide as our own Milky Way galaxy – about 60,000 light years – yet harbor only one percent as many stars. The findings were recently published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

“If the Milky Way is a sea of stars, then these newly discovered galaxies are like wisps of clouds”, said van Dokkum. “We are beginning to form some ideas about how they were born and it’s remarkable they have survived at all. They are found in a dense, violent region of space filled with dark matter and galaxies whizzing around, so we think they must be cloaked in their own invisible dark matter ‘shields’ that are protecting them from this intergalactic assault.”

The team made the latest discovery by combining results from one of the world’s smallest telescopes as well as the largest telescope on Earth. The Dragonfly Telephoto Array used 14-centimeter state of the art telephoto lens cameras to produce digital images of the very faint, diffuse objects. Keck Observatory’s 10-meter Keck I telescope, with its Low Resolution Imaging Spectrograph, then separated the light of one of the objects into colors that diagnose its composition and distance.

Continue reading Scientists at Keck Discover the Fluffiest Galaxies…

W. M. Keck Observatory press release

Using the W. M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii, a group of astronomers led by Joseph Hennawi of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy have discovered the first quadruple quasar: four rare active black holes situated in close proximity to one another. The quartet resides in one of the most massive structures ever discovered in the distant universe, and is surrounded by a giant nebula of cool dense gas. Because the discovery comes with one-in-ten-million odds, perhaps cosmologists need to rethink their models of quasar evolution and the formation of the most massive cosmic structures. The results are being published in the May 15, 2015 edition of the journal Science.

Quasar Quartet

Image of the region of the space occupied by the rare quasar quartet. The four quasars are indicated by arrows. Credit: Hennawi & Arrigoni-Battaia, MPIA

Hitting the jackpot is one thing, but if you hit the jackpot four times in a row you might wonder if the odds were somehow stacked in your favor.

Quasars constitute a brief phase of galaxy evolution, powered by the in-fall of matter onto a supermassive black hole at the center of a galaxy. During this phase, they are the most luminous objects in the Universe, shining hundreds of times brighter than their host galaxies, which themselves contain hundreds of billions of stars. But these hyper-luminous episodes last only a tiny fraction of a galaxy’s lifetime, which is why astronomers need to be very lucky to catch any given galaxy in the act. As a result, quasars are exceedingly rare on the sky, and are typically separated by hundreds of millions of light years from one another. The researchers estimate that the odds of discovering a quadruple quasar by chance is one in ten million. How on Earth did they get so lucky?

Clues come from peculiar properties of the quartet’s environment. The four quasars are surrounded by a giant nebula of cool dense hydrogen gas, which emits light because it is irradiated by the intense glare of the quasars. In addition, both the quartet and the surrounding nebula reside in a rare corner of the universe with a surprisingly large amount of matter. “There are several hundred times more galaxies in this region than you would expect to see at these distances,” said J. Xavier Prochaska, professor at the University of California Santa Cruz and the principal investigator of the Keck Observatory observations.

Continue reading Astronomers Baffled by Discovery of Rare Quasar Quartet…

A night on the summit and a stay at Hale Pōhaku offers an opportunity to explore the mountain. The plan had been to take a short hike in the Hale Pōhaku area to visit some interesting geologic features before heading down the mountain. A cold misting rain made that idea much less attractive. Instead I paid a visit to my friends at the Visitor Information Station and along the way visited the protest camp across the street. The experience of the day was a conversation I had with the occupants of the camp, a conversation both interesting and odd, I spent the entire drive back down the mountain and much of the day mulling over what I had seen and heard in that conversation.

Protest Encampment

The protest encampment across the street from Hale Pōhaku

I will avoid the use of names here, I am not sure is the owners would appreciate my using them and they really add nothing to this description. Thus I will follow Galileo and use names that reflect the individual views. It is these views that were intriguing, for this day I met several people with entirely different motivations that make a very interesting contrast. It was fascinating to me that in the span of one conversation I would meet people who so typified the various groups that have become involved in the controversy.

The first to greet me as I came across the street was a gentleman I will call Mr. Sovereignty for his position on the matter. The argument atop Mauna Kea has become embroiled in a range of issues that have simmered in the islands for a long time. Among those who are against the construction of TMT are some who are simply against any further telescopes on Mauna Kea and also those who see the issue as wrapped up in questions on the legal status of the State of Hawaii. The main thrust of a common argument is that the Kingdom of Hawaii was illegally overthrown. Their goal is nothing less than the restoration of the kingdom as a sovereign entity.

Continue reading A Conversation on Mauna Kea…