Remote Observing with the CSO

You might be wondering what I’m doing on the Galaxy Zoo blog (normally you find me at Planet Four and Planet Hunters). Instead of studying planets and minor planets, a few weeks ago I was helping observe blue elliptical galaxies with some of Chris research group (his graduate students Becky and Sandor with  help from Chris) using the Caltech Submillimeter Observatory (CSO). Chris wrote back in July  about remote observing on CSO for a project looking at blue elliptical galaxies. Those nights in July were bonus nights. They got traded to us because the group observing needed better weather, and they kindly gave us the nights when the forecast was predicted to be not good enough for their main project  in case we could do something useful with the time. We had just submitted the observing proposal to ask to use the CSO a few weeks before that. Those nights were good training for all of since we had never used the CSO before (and that was my first foray into submillimeter observing).  In the fall, we learned that our proposal was accepted. We got awarded one night in November and 6 nights sometime in the the first part of 2015. We should know the exact dates when the observing calendar comes out in December.

Image credit: CSO/Caltech

Image credit: CSO/Caltech

The CSO is a single dish 10-m telescope located on Mauna Kea. The cool thing is that you can log in and drive the instruments and the telescopes remotely. On the night of November 18th in Hawaii (November 19 in the UK and Taiwan), I was logged in from Taipei, and Chris student’s Becky and Sandor were logged in from Oxford very very early in the morning commanding the telescope and instruments. This was Becky’s second run with the CSO, she co-observed during the July run. This was Sandor’s first time with the CSO and submilimeter observing.


Becky & Sandor awake well before sunrise in the UK but very excited to be observing on Mauna Kea

We had really great weather and conditions. The opacity through the atmosphere in the submilimeter was stable and really low.  You can see from the screen grab I took below


The green line is the measurement from the CSO and the red is another larger submilimeter telescope. The grey area shows nighttime on Mauna Kea. You can see conditions were really stable.

We were a bit too busy to blog during the night, but I thought I’d share some of the screen shots and photos we took that night including some of the computer interfaces we use to control the CSO and know the status of the telescope – Below is one of the orrery – it tells us where our target and other standard stars, Solar System planets, and other standard calibrators are in the sky. This is very handy when you’re looking for a pointing carbon star to go to tune and check the telescope pointing or if you want to double check a planet is observable for pointing and calibration. Below the orrery is the waveform for the secondary mirror telling us that it is indeed oscillating back and forth ,which is what we required for our observations.


Top: CSO orrery Bottom – shows the status of the secondary mirror and the waveform tells us the secondary mirror is wobbling like it should.

This is the status window for the spectrographs. There are  two that receive light at the same time. The bottom one covers a wider wavelength than the top one, but the wavelengths we’re interested in are captured on both.

Screen Sharing Picture November 19, 2014 at 12.20.30 AM HST

Image of the spectrograph status displays after a temperature calibration was taken.

We use carbon stars with strong CO emission features to tune the pointing of the telescope. You cans see the strong CO(2-1) line in the middle as the sharp peak.


Observing a carbon star

Here’s a picture of Becky hard at work working checking that our calibration observation was centered at the right wavelength we were supposed to observing at.


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