KCWI Arrives on the Mountain

W. M. Keck Observatory News Release

Keck Observatory is pushing the cutting edge of scientific discovery with the addition of the world’s most sensitive instrument for measuring the tendrils of faint gas in the intergalactic medium known as the cosmic web. The 5-ton instrument, the size of an ice cream truck, is named the Keck Cosmic Web Imager (KCWI). KCWI will uncover vital clues about the life-cycle of galaxies, helping to unravel mysteries about our universe.

KCWI being lifted off the trailer at Keck Observatory on the summit of Mauna Kea, Jan 20, 2017
KCWI being lifted off the trailer at Keck Observatory on the summit of Mauna Kea, Jan 20, 2017
Physics professor, Christopher Martin, and his team at Caltech, in collaboration with Keck Observatory, University of California Santa Cruz and industrial partners, designed and built the spectrograph to study the cosmic web in unprecedented detail. KCWI will enable astronomers to study many other exceedingly faint objects in the universe as well.

“For decades, astronomers have demonstrated that galaxies evolve. Now, we’re trying to figure out how and why,” says Martin, describing the potential of this instrument. “We know the gas around galaxies is ultimately fueling them, but it is so faint – we still haven’t been able to get a close look at it and understand how this process works.”

The design of KCWI is based on its predecessor, the Palomar Cosmic Web Imager. KCWI will be installed on one of the twin 10-meter Keck Observatory telescopes, the largest optical/infrared telescopes in the world. The telescopes’ location on Maunakea provides the most pristine viewing conditions in the world for this science. This unbeatable combination of technology and location will enable KCWI to provide some of the most-detailed glimpses of the universe ever, including the study of gas jets around young stars, the winds of dead stars and even supermassive black holes.

“The best location in the world for astronomy calls for the best tools for astronomy,” said Hilton Lewis, director of the Keck Observatory. “With KCWI on the world’s largest telescope, we are well positioned to develop our understanding of the evolution of galaxies by capturing high-resolution spectra of some of the faintest, most difficult to study objects in the universe in ways never before possible.”

KCWI arrived by ship from Los Angeles on January 20 and was carefully transported up to the observatory atop Maunakea. The instrument will be installed and tested, followed by the first observations in the coming months.

Venus and Mars

The Moon, Venus and Jupiter
A morning conjunction of the three brightest objects in the night sky, the Moon, Venus and Jupiter on the morning of July 15, 2012, the Pleiades star cluster can be seen at the top
Over the coming weeks Venus and Mars will dance in the sunset. Close approach will occur on February 2nd, with the pair about 5° apart. They will remain in close proximity in the sky for much of February, finally disappearing into the glare of sunset around the end of the month.

On the evening of the 31st, a pretty crescent Moon will join this dance in the sunset, forming a triangle about 5° across. A 16% illuminated crescent moon with make a lovely trio with the bright planets.

Distanced from Reality

On Monday I tuned back into the TMT contested case hearing, it is a soap opera that has become rather addictive over the last few months. I will often keep the video feed up in the corner of my monitor, attempting to pick up the more interesting bits through the day.

Michael Lee
Michael Lee testifies at the TMT contested case hearing Jan 24, 2017
Mr. Lee claims to be a papakilohoku, a star priest, I tuned into his testimony with some interest. As an amateur astronomer who has spent countless nights under the stars observing with hand made telescopes, or simply my unaided eyes, I am very familiar with the sky. I hoped he would relate some interesting Hawaiian sky lore while on the stand, a new legend or two. What I heard instead was a mangled version of astronomy that would embarrass any ancient Polynesian navigator.

Mr. Michael Lee was offered as a witness by Harry Fergerstrom, one of the more extreme participants in the ongoing contested case hearing. It is no surprise that this witness would espouse some of the more interesting claims made against the TMT project. I expected some wild claims, I was surprised at just how wild.

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A Little Icy…

From the Archive – San Xavier del Bac

Another set of images from the slide archive as the digitization project continues.

San Xavier del Bac
The front of Mission San Xavier del Bac south of Tucson
This time we visit the old Spanish mission of San Xavier del Bac south of Tucson seen here during a visit in 1996.

I visited the mission several times over the years, it can be very photogenic. A little patience will allow the photographer to catch the beams of sunlight from the upper story windows illuminating some of the saints and other icons found in this richly decorated church.

The photos are obviously from scanned slides. In the original frames the film grain is readily obvious, I use a little luminance noise reduction in processing to remove some of that. The super color saturation was not added in digital processing, it is very much part of the original slide.

A Little Snow…

GenPIC, A Microcontroller Utility PCB

Over the years I have hand wired so many microcontroller PCB’s. Along with my own projects for myself there are more than a dozen of my little microcontroller devices at work about the observatory. The OSIRIS IR calibration source, the Keck 2 dome inclinometers, a precipitation sensor interface, the Keck 1 AO electronic vault temperature sensors, the weather mast fan and shelter controller, the list goes on. Anyplace a bit of electronic intelligence is needed for the task.

A PCB assembly in layout
Of course the challenge is that each of these controllers has been hand wired and built for a specific task. This takes a few hours of running little wires on a perfboard. And while I enjoy such wiring, it does make the task take notably longer.

While a couple of my microcontroller designs have been laid out on proper circuit cards, like the SciMeasure camera exposure controllers, I have never laid out a general purpose microcontroller PCB. This is not for lack of thinking about it, so many times I have considered this could be so much easier if I could only invest a little time in a layout.

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Mercury at Maximum Elongation

Today Mercury will be at maximum western elongation, as high in the morning sky as it will appear for this current apparition. After today the planet will slide back into the dawn, passing through superior conjunction on March 6th to reappear in the evening around the end of March.

Mercury Transit 9May2016
Mercury transiting the Sun on May 9, 2016. Celestron C8 and Canon 6D at f/10.
The best evening apparition of 2017 will be in July, with a maximum elongation of over 27°. The best morning apparition will be May at over 25°, with today being nearly as good at over 24°.

There are no transits of Mercury in 2017, the next will be Nov 11, 2019.

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