Summit Chaos

Tuesday, April 27th was an exercise in chaos.

A convoy of observatory vehicles heads up the summit access road
It started when we arrived at the morning rendezvous and noted the number of vehicles waiting. Transportation sets up up as many vehicles as necessary based on the ride board, usually two or three vehicles are sitting by the door waiting to transport our crew to the summit. That morning there were five, and we all knew from the schedule that many more would be leaving later in the day. This was going to be a busy and crowded day.

At Hale Pohaku we were met by a film crew. Documentary film crews are an occupational hazard at Keck. I have appeared in more than one show. Not usually a problem, this day the crew would be yet one more complication.

For myself, things started to go bad with an email message, trouble with a key piece of equipment in AO. At the heart of the adaptive optics system is a thin flexible mirror that can change shape to correct the light, the DM or deformable mirror. In order to monitor this mirror a WYKO interferometer is used to image its surface. This device shines laser light at the mirror, the return light is interfered with itself, allowing the surface shape to be analyzed with incredible accuracy. This is used to calibrate the AO system at the beginning of each night. Gone was my plan of a simple day doing some documentation checks to prepare for some upcoming modifications to the system.

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Saddle Road Progress

Phase 5 in the rebuilding of Saddle Road is progressing rapidly, this is the totally new section from Mauna Kea State Park to MP42. As we came through the area Thursday morning a constant chain of trucks hauling asphalt was crossing the road. There was a great deal of other activity in evidence but we could not see the paving operation itself, it was somewhere out of sight behind the military barracks.

It appears that the entire segment now has at least some asphalt on it. This was most apparent at the east end. Monday afternoon this was still bare gravel, as of Wednesday the new roadbed was covered with a base layer of asphalt. The wide expanse of smooth pavement quite a contrast to what we had to turn down to continue our journey home.

As we come through the guys all take a moment to see where progress has been made. We all look forward to another seven miles of smooth and safe road.

Saddle Road Rebuilding
The east end of Phase 5, rebuilding Saddle Road at Mauna Kea State Park on 20 April 2009
Saddle Road Rebuilding
The east end of Phase 5, rebuilding Saddle Road at Mauna Kea State Park on 23 April 2009

Rained Out

Well, the Waikoloa Elementary School star party wasn’t much for stars. We did see one star briefly through the clouds. There were four telescopes setup in the schoolyard waiting in hopes that the clouds would clear, but it was not to be. We stood around talking story and examining Cliff’s 24″ telescope. A truss tube dob is a great scope to show how a telescope works, all the inner parts exposed.

We waited an hour, but around 8pm the first hints of rain began. As the drops thickened we scurried to get the telescopes put away.

My thanks to the WHAC members who came out in support of this event! We will be attempting to reschedule the event, possibly for May 22nd.

Primary Gecko

In the tropical climate of Hawaiʻi small creatures are commonly found among one’s belongings. Spiders, centipedes, scorpions and more are a fact of life and can be found in anything that has not been carefully stored. Telescopes are often housed in the garage, particularly the large dobsonians that are too large to easily be carried into the house.

Primary Gecko
A gecko in the center of a 24″ telescope mirror
In the process of setting up telescopes at the Mana Kea VIS we found another critter that had sought a home. Upon unpacking the 24″ scope belonging to Cliff Livermore we were all amused to find a gecko atop the primary mirror when opening the cover of the box.

One can only imagine the poor creature’s predicament. A seemingly nice quiet, warm and dark place now subject to a great deal of motion and upheaval. Then the cover is removed to allow admission of cold mountain air. Hardly the safe refuge expected when the animal crawled into the box.

Primary Gecko
A gecko in the center of a 24″ telescope mirror
The discovery of this poor creature evoke an immediate response, a crowd of laughing humans quickly gathered round the mirror box.
It was notable that everyone’s reaction was the same. Not the revulsion that finding a cockroach or centipede would have caused in the same situation. A gecko is almost universally liked, the results were laughter and amusement.

Instead of being hunted down and squished, this gecko was carefully caught to be given a ride back down the mountain to the warm tropical climate of Waikoloa. The next day he was released into the new rock wall I am building in the back yard for a vegetable bed. With the voids among the rock, this wall is a perfect gecko habitat.

Keck and Kepler Team Up to Find Other Earths

W. M. Keck Observatory press release

For nearly a decade, Cal-Berkeley astronomer Geoff Marcy and his colleagues have been using the W. M. Keck telescopes to discover giant planets orbiting distant stars. Now, with the successful launch of NASA’s Kepler mission, they will be using Keck I’s ten-meter astronomical eye to discover distant Earths. Kepler will pick out Earth-like candidates. Keck will then zero in on them and determine, with certainty, if they are at all similar to our home planet.

“Keck and NASA have a long-standing partnership to push astronomy research to its fullest potential. This Keck-Kepler collaboration gives that partnership a compelling new scientific focus,” said Taft Armandroff, the Director of Keck Observatory headquartered in Kamuela, HI.

Artist’s rendition of the Kepler Spacecraft in orbit around the Sun peering at a distant solar system, press release image from the NASA Kepler website
Kepler was launched from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center last Friday.  Aboard the spacecraft is an 84-megapixel camera that will focus on a single region of the sky and snap repeated images of 100,000 stars looking for those that dim periodically. By studying the stars’ episodic decreases in starlight, astronomers will be able to determine the diameter of the object that passes in front of the star, blocks its light and causes the dimming.

“Kepler does not tell astronomers with certainty if the object taking a bite out of the starlight is a planet or another star. That is where Keck plays a crucial role to the Kepler mission,” said Marcy, a frequent Keck user and Kepler mission co-investigator. He, along with a large international planet-hunting team, has discovered nearly half of the 300-plus known planets outside the Solar System.

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Hawai‘i’s Sea Creatures

While the fish are often spectacular on the reef, it is the invertebrates that are often the most fascinating creatures to be found. Life in the sea allows for a bewildering array of body shapes and lifestyles. The creatures found by divers will often be things that stretch the imagination. The unexpected is common and the observant diver will find life forms both beautiful and horrifying.

Hoover's Hawai‘i's Sea Creatures
The cover of Hoover’s Hawai‘i’s Sea Creatures
The guide to invertebrates on the reef is Hawai‘i’s Sea Creatures, by John Hoover. Written for the non-professional there are over 500 species presented, all with excellent photographs. Each species is resented with a short paragraph or two summarizing what is known about the creature. To supplement the books, the author maintains a website with updates that can be checked when the book fails.

For someone like myself who spends much of a dive looking for the small creatures that most divers overlook this book is incredibly useful. I received the latest edition under the Christmas tree and it is often the first book I reach for after returning from a dive.

I have come across a few species not in the book. But the book will at least get you close, there will be something similar allowing you to identify the family or maybe the genus that your unknown critter belongs in. For anyone diving in Hawai‘i, this is one book that is indispensable.

Laser Launch Telescope

A big milestone arrived this week. The launch telescope arrived from the manufacturer. It is an impressive instrument itself, a half meter aperture, an extraordinarily short focal length, made to very exacting precisions, even for optics. It is a cassegrain design with an focal ratio of f/1. The primary is coated with a custom coating designed for maximum reflectance at the 589nm sodium D line, where the laser will operate. This gives the primary a notably orange cast that is quite beautiful. The entire telescope is enclosed in an airtight aluminum shell with the optics supported on a carbon fiber frame within.

Laser Launch Telescope
Kenny Grace inspecting the Keck 1 laser launch telescope during incoming inspection after unpacking
This is one of the key components in creating a laser for the Keck 1 adaptive optics system. An enormous amount of work has gone into preparing for the laser… modifications to the structure of the Keck 1 telescope, cabling, electrical power and liquid cooling plumbing. An insulated room built on the side of the telescope to house the laser and a safety system to comply with laser safety regulations. All of this in preparation for the arrival of two key components, the laser itself and the launch telescope that will focus this light into a clean beam rising into the night sky over Mauna Kea.

The entire assembly will mount behind the secondary of K1. This is different than the current laser in Keck 2 that is emitted from a launch telescope along the side of the main telescope. Having the laser on the side creates some problems for the AO wavefront controller, the artificial guidestar can be elongated by parallax when seen from the other side of a ten meter telescope. Having the laser launched from the center of the main telescope is a far more optimal solution. But doing that takes a far more difficult to design and build launch telescope as it has to be extraordinarily compact.

We expect delivery of the laser itself in May. Our laser engineer has been working with the laser manufacturer to insure it meets all specifications. Reports indicate it is not only meeting those specifications, but surpassing them. When we take delivery there will be a period of testing before the equipment is trucked to the mountain for installation in its final position.

The coming week will be fun, need to string a new set of cables to the Keck 1 secondary mirror. This means 150 feet of cabling from the Nasmyth Deck, up the tubular structure of the telescope and across the spider to the secondary. On a ten meter telescope this means a lot of high work from the personnel bucket of the jib crane among the girders of the telescope. This is going to be fun!