This week members of our engineering team have been installing telescopes at our Sutherland site, South Africa. We are pleased to announce the first of the 3 telescopes to be installed achieved first light on 22 February 2013. The image below is a wide field image taken with a 500mm Nikon lens (not the standard instrumentation) and is a very preliminary observation. There is still much work to do (including installing the other 2 telescopes) but we want to send our congratulations to the on-site team, Annie, Mark C, David, Kurt and Abiy. Once again this team worked a miracle in getting the telescope on sky within hours and installing it (with help from Eric H and Zach, back in California).
An asteroid with an orbit that brings it very close to the Earth this week, with it's closest approach on 15 February at 20:00 UT. For the past couple of weeks staff astronomer, Tim Lister and I have been trying to image this asteroid, called 2012 DA14. We have tried observing from our site at Cerro Tololo which is still undergoing astronomical commissioning, but the asteroid was very faint, appeared very low on the horizon, very close to twilight in a part of the sky which made it difficult for our 1-meter telescopes to observe. All of that meant that we had not had much luck getting images.
After the bush fires which ravaged New South Wales mid-January 2013, we are pleased to announce that the LCOGT installation at Siding Spring is back on sky!
A heatwave in New South Wales, Australia last week pushed daytime temperatures to as high as 42 degrees Celsius (108 Fahrenheit) and triggered a series of wildfires. One of these, the Wambelong Fire, burned through portions of the Warrumbungle National Park and threatened the Siding Spring Observatory where a large share of the astronomy in Australia is conducted.
Call for Proposals to use the LCOGT 2m telescope facilities
This weekend Siding Spring observatory has been ravaged by a bush fire. All of the telescopes (including Faulkes Telescope South and our other instrumenation) appear to be safe. The New South Wales Fire Service used the LCOGT webcams to investigate the extent of the fires. Due to their brave efforts and the preventative measures of observatory staff, no life was lost. Sadly some buildings, including residential buildings, were lost to the flames.
LCOGT scientists are attending the winter 2013 meeting of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) in Long Beach, CA. In addition to several poster and oral presentations, LCOGT will be hosting a booth in the conference hall all week. Members of our supernovae, exoplanet, and solar system science teams will be there to talk about their science along with our public outreach group who will be demonstrating the cool interactive education projects available through our website. We will also be showing how to explore our new imaging and photometry archives as well as exhibiting some of the hardware from the 1-meter telescopes.
On Thursday November 15 I visited the MESA Club at Dos Pueblos High School in Goleta, CA. This visit was arranged through a fantastic program called Santa Barbara Partners in Education that, among other activities, links schools with professionals in the community who want to donate their time. The acronym MESA stands for math, science, and engineering acheivement, and the club at Dos Pueblos has about 20 members. The students are all interested in science, and they wanted a hands-on demonstration about astronomy. I decided to have them use LCOGT's citizen science project, Agent Exoplanet. As an introduction we had a brief discussion about exoplanets, why they are scientifically important to find, the type of data that is required, and how it is analyzed. Then, the students dug in! We only had 45 minutes, but I was very impressed by how quickly these MESA Club students caught on to the technique of relative photometry.