It is not supposed to do that…

When 700 tons of steel and aluminum just keeps going when it is commanded to stop people tend to notice. When you let up on the switch it is supposed to stop, when that something is the Keck 1 telescope dome it gets interesting.

Snow Day
Looking across at the Keck 1 dome from the top of Keck 2 with Mauna Loa in the background
The first I knew about it was from John, our summit supervisor on the phone. Actually he had several folks on his end using the speakerphone, never a good sign when a phone call from the summit starts this way.

Three people describing a problem on the phone is a bit confusing, it takes a few minutes, and a few questions before I have a clear idea of what happened. Basically the dome did not stop when commanded to while they were operating with the radio controller, a bit of kit we call Capt. Marvel.

Of course a few minutes later our safety officer walks into my office… I wonder what she wants to talk about?

Yeah, I probably need to figure this out.

Continue reading “It is not supposed to do that…”

Employment Opportunity at Keck – Software Engineer

W. M. Keck Observatory position announcement…

Keck 1 Laser
Testing the Keck 1 laser under the light of a nearly full Moon
The W. M. Keck Observatory operates two of the world’s largest optical/infrared telescopes located on the summit of Mauna Kea on the Big Island of Hawaii. Each telescope is equipped with a full suite of instruments designed to perform exciting, cutting edge astronomical research.

The Observatory seeks a Software Engineer responsible for a variety of duties related to developing, deploying and optimizing software for control solutions used at the observatory and integration of partner developed science instruments. The successful candidate will enjoy a comprehensive benefits package while residing in one of the world’s most uniquely beautiful and diverse locations.

The candidate is expected to have a minimum of 5 years’ proven experience developing and integrating distributed control software solutions for engineering or scientific applications with involvement in all aspects of the software life cycle from specification through deployment.

The candidate is expected to have sound knowledge of modern software engineering practices. Practical experience in the following is required: strong C/C++ with significant O-O design and development; UNIX platform development environment using the gnu tool chain under Linux or Solaris; working with communication middleware such as RPC, RMI, ICE or messaging systems; working with real-time OS like VxWorks or RT Linux; User Interface development with Tcl/Tk, Java, Qt, Python or other toolkits.

The ideal candidate should be a motivated, self-starter who can collaborate effectively across disciplines in a fast paced environment. Experience working with EPICS at an astronomical observatory or high energy physics experiment facility and experience with driver development and motion control are highly desirable.

This position requires you to submit your resume on-line at: with your cover letter that states why you are uniquely qualified for the position.

Additional information about WMKO and this position may be found on our web site at EEO Employer

Comet iPhone App

One drawback to the many iPhone astronomy apps is the lack of large databases. To an advanced amateur such as myself, the lack of detailed databases is a distinct negative in these programs. I venture way beyond the Messier catalog, or even the NGC on a regular basis. I understand the price to be paid in speed and memory required to support larger databases, but I would like to have the option.

C/2007 N3 Lulin
Comet C/2007 N3 Lulin on the evening of 26 Feb 2009, a stack of 10 x 4 min exposures, Canon 20Da and TeleVue 76mm APO
The programs I have seen also lack the ability to display comets or asteroids. This last issue has become a problem lately, as we have several nice comets available in the sky for observing. A quick way to look up the current position for the object is essential for comets and asteroids if you wish to observe them. Last night’s coordinates will have you looking at an empty starfield tonight.

There is one decent answer for comets… I found a very nice app for comet ephemerides published by Keith Yohn. Called simply Comet, this free program downloads the latest ephemeris data from the Minor Planet Center and displays the current and future coordinates for each comet. Just what I needed!

There are no charts, the data is simply displayed in table form. Every observable comet is displayed and can be search for using a simple set of filters.

When attempting to observe comet C/2009 P1 Gerradd a few times recently. I have found the coordinates to be quite accurate. The comet was in the sky, right where the app showed it would be. Nothing like a real world test.