Neptune and Triton

Mike Brown did more than give a lecture while in Hawai’i. He just finished a four day observing run using Keck 2 with AO and OSIRIS, as well as gathering data with NIRSPEC. The target? Among other things Mike and his team observed Neptune and the large moon Triton. Triton is thought to be a captured KBO (Kuiper Belt Object). These objects, including well known Pluto, and lesser known, but just as large objects like Eris, Haumea, Makemake and Quaoar, are Mike’s area of expertise.

It is always nice to see a system I help maintain operating well and producing images like this…

Triton and Neptune
A Keck AO / OSIRIS photo of Neptune and the large moon Triton, credit Mike Brown/CalTech

Diving Malae Point

Called Black Point by most divers, found as Malae Point on maps, whatever the name it is a great dive area. The plan is simple, rendezvous at Kohala Divers. Some folks need fills, and others need to toss their gear into one of the 4WD vehicles needed to reach the shoreline. The Kohala coast is a diver’s delight, just about anywhere you can get to the water you will find a good dive site. But there are few easy access points, anything else requires a rough ride down rocky roads to the water. We have a few routes we have explored, this weekend we would use one of our favorites, a small strand we have named Lone Kiawe Beach.

Kohala Diving
The crew preparing to dive near Malae Point, Mark and Patti, Sky, Kirk, and Pete joined me for a two tank morning
The water is rougher than we would like. No problem once beyond the rocky shoreline. But enough to make entry and exit interesting. We find a small rock shelf that drops into five feet of water allowing a safer entry with a quick getaway from the rocks. It would be easy if we were just snorkeling, but the heavy tank and buoyancy weights of the scuba gear make for cumbersome movement. The first folks out quickly doff gear and return to the ledge to assist the others. Still, I pick up a couple bruises and a bloody scrape getting out.

Just out from the beach are several great caves in about 30-40ft of water. These are pretty big caves, with multiple entrances through the heavy coral. Perhaps they were originally lava tubes, though eons of wave action have sculpted and expanded the caverns to include numerous nooks and shelves. Many are in a ledge about 20-30ft below the surface, a structure that may have once been a shoreline during some age of lower sea level. Lobsters, nudibranch, cowries and more to be found during a careful exploration. I attempt to move slowly to avoid stirring up silt. Adjusting my buoyancy I hover and probe the recesses with the light. Dozens of red ‘ala’ihi scatter, avoiding the beam, withdrawing into narrow places I cannot reach. Here and there ‘upāpalu hover, awaiting the night to leave the cave and hunt.

Pete's Attitude
Pete Tucker hamming it for the camera while diving near Malae Point
One oddity catches my attention… Dozens of juvenile Humuhumu Lei (Lei Triggerfish). They seem everywhere, 2-4 inches long and clustered in small gangs across the reef. A good recruiment year for this species? In general the fish population seems healthy. This area is outside the Lapakahi Replenishment Area, but also a long way for the aquarium collectors from Honokohau to run.

We spend our surface interval talking story in the shade of the large kiawe tree. Breaking out drinks and munchies there is time to simply enjoy good company and celebrate the experience. Sit back, gaze at the blue water and remember… We live in Hawai’i.

The second dive goes much as the first. Nothing particularly spectacular found on the dives. No great photos on the card when I downloaded the SD card. Just a nice morning spent underwater on a beautiful Kohala day. Returning to Kawaihae we celebrate yet another local experience, burgers at Kohala Burger and Taco. A day to remember.

ISS Time Lapse

I do not usually post random YouTube vids here. But sometimes I just have to. I seriously suggest you select 1080pHD and expand to full screen now.

The shot starts over the west coast of North America heading south. This particular orbit went right down Central and finally South America. You can pick out a lot of major metropolitan areas, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Mexico City, etc., by the lights. Also spectacular is the lighting in several storm complexes along the coast of Mexico and further into South America.

A Very Dark Night

Planning a night of observing is a challenge. There is the choice of equipment, setting up observing lists of objects to target. And then there is deciding where to go.

Finding a dark spot can be a challenge in Hawai’i. Almost every bit of land is gated and tied up in bureaucratic rules. We often use the area around the Mauna Kea VIS to observe. Located at 9,000ft on the south side of Mauna Kea the area has much to recommend it for amateur astronomy. This land is under the administrative control of OMKM, who actively support astronomy, both professional and amateur. But the area does have a number of lights, and there is regular vehicle traffic, even in the middle of the night. Thus I have been actively looking for other places.

Ready for Dark
The 18″ setup at 9000ft on the side of Mauna Kea
The area around the MK VIS is state land, under the control of the State of Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources. Just below the VIS is the start of a back road that almost entirely circles the mountain, R-1, also part of the Na Ala Hele trial system, a road designated for public access. Perfect! All I need is a place just enough out of the way to avoid any lights or activity in the night.

State land is an interesting issue in Hawai’i. No camping is allowed outside of designated sites, period. But, according to the DLNR administrative rules it is not camping unless you are… “in possession of a backpack, tents, blankets, tarpaulins, or other obvious camping paraphernalia, any time after one hour after sundown until sunrise in a forest reserve” (Section §13-104-2 Hawai’i Division of Forestry and Wildlife). I made certain I had no “camping paraphernalia” with me. I am merely picnicking… in the middle of the night.

Continue reading “A Very Dark Night”

It’s Fixed

A long frustrating day.

With four days of observing scheduled starting tonight, the pressure was on. Both Keck telescopes, four nights, lost for something I am responsible for? Not an attractive prospect. Everyone in the department has a helpful hint or two, some of them even made sense, most we had already tried. Phone calls and emails fly as everyone chimes in, even the guys at JPL who built the cameras get involved.

It was not until three in the afternoon that I found it. Comparing oscilloscope traces between the two FATCAT instruments I note something amiss in the video signal. Most of the waveforms makes sense, even look OK if viewed alone. The colored trace on the screen isn’t the same as the working camera. Now I recall a couple other waveforms I had looked at earlier and wondered about, even to the point of making some notes about. Realization dawned with an enormous sense of relief. Those clock edges are not supposed to be rounded like that!

I pull the clock driver board out of the working camera and install it in the problem child… The noise goes away!

I stole a spare clock drive card from the instrument guys, from the spares for LRIS. I suppose I will hear about raiding their precious stash Monday when they find my note.

I need both cameras and two good clock boards. The spare has to be configured correctly, which takes another hour of logic and good guesses in the absence of decent documentation. Only two hours before dark we perform the final checkouts on the system, the mood notably lighter as we realize it is going to work.

As I write this the FATCAT cameras are on-sky, detecting fringes of interfering light from some distant star.

It’s Broke

Yes, it is broken. Worse, I do not know how to fix it.

Specifically it is the primary fringe tracking camera, FATCAT, that has unacceptable levels of noise. We are due to be observing with it tomorrow night. No fringe tracker, no interferometer. After several days of troubleshooting I still have no idea what is wrong. I do know about a lot of things that are working, having painstakingly checked many parts of the system. The level of frustration is building.

Back to the summit tomorrow. Which sucks. I was supposed to be helping out with the Planet Walk tomorrow. Setting up a solar telescope to allow kids to see our star. Instead, it is back to the frustration of a broken camera.

The ACLU Publishes a Guide to Photography Rights

A nice guide to your right to photograph by the ACLU. It is interesting to note the current restrictions to the audio portion of videography that some states have attempted to enforce using wiretapping laws. Fortunately Hawai’i is not a “two party consent” state, removing that issue here.

Postcard from the Reef – Camouflage

Curled into the top of a coral head, dressed in nighttime camouflage colors, pretending to be part of the coral. Sitting still just makes it an easy target for the camera…

A Stripebelly Puffer
A Stripebelly Puffer (Arothron hispidus) in nighttime camouflage colors, 35′ depth, Mahukona