Laser Ray-Trace

Another exhibit built for public outreach functions. It was completed and used for the recent W. M. Keck Observatory open house. You will also be able to see it at the upcoming AstroDay fun in Hilo.

Ray-tracing is a standard way to analyze optical designs. The technique allows the optical designer to follow the path of each ray of light through a system of lenses and mirrors. While ray tracing used to be done with pencil and paper, it is now done on a computer screen. What I had never seen was this process done in the physical. But I can figure out how…

Laser Ray Trace Table
A laser ray trace table used to demonstrate the focal point of a simple lens
Take a few laser line modules, a bit of sheet metal and paint, a bit of circuitry and we can do this!

In the photo you can see the idea… Five red laser line modules are aligned across a table. Stick a lens section in the beams and you can observe refraction as it happens. Using a double convex lens, all of the beams converge to a focus. A clear demonstration of the basic principles of optics!

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Keck Open House

I suppose I should do a write-up of Keck Week. It has been a week since the event wound down. But… That was a massive whirlwind of activity, way too much to do, I am just now exiting decompression mode.

I am not the only one attempting to recover. I stopped by Debbie Goodwin’s office Monday. Her desk is piled with follow-up work, her usually neat office a bit of a wreck. The same story everywhere around headquarters, the remains of open house litter the complex, slowly disappearing as folks clean up and put away. At least the conference room had tables and chairs for Tuesday’s AO Team meeting.

We are still awaiting the numbers, visitors to open house, donations, etc. But even without data I think we can call the event a total success. It was huge in any case, turnout for open house was somewhere in the 1,500 to 2,000 visitor range as expected. What I do know was the reaction I got as I walked about the events.. A lot of happy folks! Everyone was having a good time.

Telescope Shop
An array of backyard telescopes await the crowd in the Telescope Shop, photo by Maureen Salmi
The two West Hawaii Astronomy Club exhibits were a mixed success, not through any fault of the club. The solar viewing was completely wiped out by the Waimea weather, not just the usual misty clouds, but pouring rain. To the success side, the Telescope Shoppe worked well, as I hoped it gave our club members something to talk about, a hook to draw in the visitor. The display of small, amateur instruments looked pretty good, everything from some of my binoculars on a parallelogram mount to Tony’s 12.5″ Obsession dob. A pair of Orion 8″ dobs gave us a ‘scope to point to for budget minded folks, an iOptron cube and a Meade 8″ LX-90 represented some GoTo options. This is an activity I highly recommend to anyone hosting a similar event.

Soldering Flashers
The fun of soldering a flasher circuit board, photo by Maureen Salmi
The rain did little to dampen the crowds every part of the complex was crowded. The other Operations Department exhibits were quite popular… David was playing with liquid nitrogen in the courtyard, exploding bottles, freezing bananas, making ice cream. In the electronics lab there were flashers to solder, small circuit boards with LED’s and a battery allowing folks to try their hand with a soldering iron. In the shop we had a hydraulic press stamping keychains. Kids pumping a lever to create the fifteen tons of pressure needed to emboss the Keck hexagons into brass.

It is a lot of fun, and a lot of work. It is a real treat for the community. With the enormous effort we will not be doing this every year. The last open house was three years ago, it will probably be that long before we do it again.

Laser Spirograph

With an upcoming open house, everyone around the observatory is frantically trying to get everything in place. There will be all manner of science exhibits throughout the observatory headquarters complex. Exhibits about our research, controlling the telescopes, an IR camera display (Get your portrait in IR!), liquid nitrogen ice-cream, just a lot of fun.

Laser Spirograph
A two mirror laser spirograph build
I am coordinating an exhibit we named Optics Lab… As you would expect, most of the exhibits in our area teach basic optics, light, lenses, etc. Understanding light and optics is a basic skill in a large observatory. We will have a few lenses on rails, a laser ray-trace table with acrylic lenses, an exhibit on polarization, and even a simple laser interferometer.

When attempting to teach something, a little eye-candy is helpful to catch the attention of the audience, particularly kids. Our group includes a laser engineer and a laser tech, so the use of lasers was obvious. There is little that catches the eyes of a kid faster than a bright laser beam. One of the first ideas they tossed on the table was a laser spirograph. After a few moments thought the answer was clear… I can build that!

SpiroLaser PCB
Schematic for the SpiroLaser control PCB
Time to dig about in the scrap box! Actually more than a few boxes in my case, I am a bit of an electronics pack rat. A green laser module… Check! Small DC motors… Check! A few voltage regulators… Check! A couple potentiometers… Check! First surface mirrors… Check! In an hour of rummaging about I quickly located everything that was needed.

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Keck Week is Coming

W. M. Keck Observatory press release

This Spring, the W. M. Keck Observatory is throwing a weeklong party called Keck Week 2013, to celebrate the observatory’s first twenty years of high-impact, game-changing astronomical discoveries from the venerable twin-domes on the summit of Mauna Kea, Hawaii. The festivities will take place in several Kohala Coast resort venues as well as in the town of Kamuela and will mark a distinctive confluence of the brightest minds in astronomy alongside our country’s most significant scientific philanthropists. Early registration lasts until December 20th, offering a 30 percent discount off all events.

Keck 1 Laser
The Keck 1 Laser undergoing engineering tests, Subaru telescope in background
“We are very excited and honored to host Keck Week 2013,” said Taft Armandroff, Director of the W. M. Keck Observatory. “We look forward to showcasing the unprecedented discoveries made by our powerful telescopes and our ambitious community of dedicated scientists. With this event, we want to celebrate Keck’s first twenty years of achievements and unveil a vibrant course for our future.”

Keck Week 2013 will open March 14th at The Fairmont Orchid, with the Keck Observatory 20th Anniversary Science Meeting – a rare, two-day binge of astronomy discourse and finely honed presentations describing Keck’s legacy discoveries. On March 16th, Keck Week will peak with a Star Struck Fundraising Gala, a grand evening at the Four Seasons Resort Hualalai and feature a live auction of spectacular items, a gourmet dinner, live music and dancing, and remarks by special guests. Other events planned for Keck Week 2013 include:

  • “Astronomy Live! Tonight” – Enjoy a hosted reception under the stars with Keck’s most popular astronomers, star gazing, a live feed from the summit and much more;
  • “Welcome to Our Universe – Keck Observatory’s Open House” – Explore and discover the science and engineering of the Keck Observatory with exhibits and hands-on activities developed by the professional staff at Keck;
  • Keck Tennis Match – Watch Keck astronomers out-parallax their Friends of Keck competitors on the court;
  • Contact! – A free showing of the feature film on the big screen; and
  • Hawai’i Astronomy – Visit Hawai’i’s other astronomical centers.

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