Observing Run: WIYN, Kitt Peak – First Report

I’ve been both excited and nervous about my trip to Kitt Peak. I’m excited because observing is fun and the science is cool, but the program I have planned is also technically challenging and uses a brand new instrument, which is a little scary.

In addition, although I’m plenty experienced with data, I haven’t done a lot of hands-on observing. My PhD thesis used Hubble data, and Galaxy Zoo uses both Hubble and SDSS data — neither of which you take yourself. Because observing is a useful skill for my profession, I made sure to get some experience while I was in grad school, but this is my first solo run to collect data for my own project. I’m here to get very deep images of some of our bulgeless AGN host galaxies, so if it doesn’t work out I’m probably going to be heartbroken. And clouds or technical issues are one thing, but I’ll be even more upset if I fail because I make a mistake that a seasoned observer wouldn’t have. I don’t want to let the Galaxy Zoo participants down! So I’ve been reading the instrument manuals and scouring papers that have done similar work in the past. The pressure is on.

I arrived the night before my first night so that I could “eavesdrop” and start to learn the new instrument on the 3.5-meter WIYN telescope, called pODI. Eventually it will just be the One Degree Imager, but for now it’s only partially complete — which is fine for me, as I only need a fraction of the total area ODI will eventually cover. But Kathy Rhode, who studies globular clusters in nearby galaxies, has slightly larger targets:


This is just one of many images Kathy took, all of which will eventually be combined to fill in the chip gaps and get rid of the usual artifacts. The instrument is working very well — it’s a good thing instruments don’t get as tired as their observers!


Another good reason to arrive a night early is to give yourself time to get adjusted to the observing schedule.

For my own first night, I was assisted by a startup person, an ODI system scientist who knows the instrument backwards and forwards. He walked me through everything, and stuck around to make sure my science observations were starting off right. He was joined by two others, both software gurus who are either writing code for ODI or for similar instruments. Along with Doug, the veteran telescope operator, there was a lot of expertise in the room. They were very patient as I asked all my questions (and made some suggestions — the software is still in progress), and my first science exposure of the night looked exactly as I had hoped:


Okay, like I said, pODI is a little bit more area than I need at the moment. Here’s a zoom in to the central detector grid:


So. Why am I observing these objects? What am I hoping to learn? More soon… for now it’s the start of my second night, and I have to get started on calibrations!

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3 responses to “Observing Run: WIYN, Kitt Peak – First Report”

  1. Jean Tate says :

    Very cool!

    That’s M51, the Whirlpool, right?

    How many galaxies are you hoping to snap, this run?

    With all that sky imaged so deeply, does it eventually end up in a publicly accessible repository, like the Hubble data? It would be a shame to lose all those carefully collected photons.

    Clear skies, and well-behaved instruments!

    • Brooke Simmons says :

      Hi Jean,

      I’ve just written a (too-)long blog post talking about the science case, which gives a bit more detail on the kind of imaging we’re doing, but in short, we’re going to get a max of 4 galaxies imaged with pODI. We’ll get some infrared images of most of the sample of 13, too, assuming the weather holds out, but the optical imaging with pODI is really, really deep, so we have to do a lot of calibrations and essentially sit on a single object all night!

      I can’t remember what the NOAO requirements are for making data products public, but I think we will after some reasonable proprietary period. 🙂


  2. Michael Hiteshew says :

    The Whirlpool is what Kathy imaged, correct? Yours is something else, but is also a beautiful face-on spiral. It almost appears to be undergoing a starburst in the central region of the arms.

    Good luck on your imaging run!

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