This week (on 8 December 2014) Eric Saunders, LCOGT software team leader, was invited to speak to 7th grade science class in Santa Barbara Junior High. I volunteered to go along with him to help.
We weren't sure how much science this class would have done, so we thought we would start with showing them some LCOGT telescopes, talking about why astronomers think a global network is a good thing.While we were talking about the globe we did a demo explaining how the seasons work. We used the example from Universe in a Box by Universe Awareness.
Last weekend one of our flagship telescopes, Faulkes Telescope South (FTS), celebrated its 10 year anniversary. For many years FTS was one of only 2 telescopes in the Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network. Consequently it, and its twin Faulkes Telescope North, provided the majority of science and education images and data over the past 10 years.
FTS is located at Siding Spring Observatory in New South Wales, Australia which coincidently is celebrating its 50 year anniversary. To mark the occasion, and also the 40 year anniversary of the Anglo Australian Telescope and the 30 year anniversary of the Advanced Technology Telescope, there was an extra special Star Fest this weekend.
Two members of the Australian arm of the LCOGT telescope operations team, Mark Willis (FTS site manager) and Andrew Pickles, were on hand to give the public tours around the LCOGT installation at Siding Spring. Throughout the whole day they talked to hundreds of people who munched their way through 200 Lamington cakes especially made for the FTS celebration.
We are continually updating our systems with hardware and software, to improve the capabilities of our network. One major upgrade we have recently made is to allow adaptive scheduling of comets. We have had the capability to adaptively schedule asteroids, using the statistics astronomers know about the orbit of these objects (called Orbital Elements) since 1 April 2014*. This is a complex problem for the robotic scheduler because minor planets (asteroids and comets) are continuously moving, making them difficult to pin down and observe in a flexible way.
Today marks to launch of a brand new observing interface for LCOGT network of telescopes. It has been designed for education users and is called On Sky. Earlier this year the whole LCOGT network was officially launched with the 1-meter and 2-meter telescopes all using the same operating system software, for the first time. The previous education interface, called Real-Time Interface or RTI, was retired at the same, because it was not compatible with our new telescope software.
We have recently identified a bug in our online visibility tool, which caused it to incorrectly calculate the hour angle of objects with high RA.
Call for Proposals to use the LCOGT 1m & 2m telescope facilities
As part of the commissioning process for our new science camera, Sinistro, some of the science team have been taking long exposures to see what the camera is capable of. Below is a colour composite image from over 7 hours, and 93 image, worth of observing effort, taken at the Cerro Tololo site of LCOGT. The image was taken with Bessell B, V and R filters separately and combined to create a full colour image. The patch of sky this image is looking at is 26 square arcminutes, using 16 million pixels.
JD Armstrong works on outreach for University of Hawai'i's Institute for Astronomy on Maui. A major part of his job is to mentor hawaiian students in astronomy research projects and in particular projects that involve the LCOGT observatory on Maui, Faulkes Telescope North (FTN).
This year JD mentored 7 students. All 7 entered science fair and competed at various district fairs throughout the Hawaiian Islands. All 7 students at the Maui, Honolulu, and HAIS district fairs won awards. The Maui fair was held at the Velma Santos Community Center, Maui. The Honolulu Fair was held at Kapiolani Community College. The Hawaii Association of Independent Schools (HAIS) science fair was held on February 8, 2014 at the Sullivan Center, 'Iolani School, in Honolulu.
5 of the 7 students won merit awards which qualifies them to compete at the state level. One of the Maui students, Celeste Jongeneelen, won first place for the junior division. Celeste used data from FTN to study young open clusters looking for Be stars. Two of the students M. Thomas Sturm and Christopher Kim entered a joint project and won first place for the senior division and are automatically eligible for the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. Thomas and Christopher received numerous awards. A quote from the award ceremony, "Thomas and Chris come back up here."
Yet another student named Christopher, Christopher Lindsay, a freshman attending 'Iolani School in Honolulu who won awards in the HAIS and HSSEF science fairs in 2013, also won the Overall HAIS First Prize and the ISEF Award for his project, "The Search and Discovery of a CoRoT Exoplanet: Photometry of Transiting Exoplanets Using the CoRoT and Faulkes Telescopes". Christopher's project was a 2 year long observing effort, which involved analysing images from the ESA satellite CoRoT and performing extra observations on FTN. The amazing conclusion to this project was that Christopher's observations helped discover a new exoplanet!
Last week the LCOGT Science Advisory Committee met, and, among other activities, reviewed the key project proposals. There were 11 proposals, and the total amount of time requested was more than 17,000 hours on the 1m network and about 1700 hours on the 2m network. Although the pool for key project proposals is about 6000 1m hours and 1200 2m hours, I wanted to allocate no more than half of these hours in the first call. This limitation is (1) so that we can have at least one more call next year and allow additional programs to start, and (2) so that we can lower the overallocation, with the goal of executing nearly all of the requested observations.
Early this week I visited the IAU's office of astronomy for development (OAD) in Cape Town, South Africa. In early 2012 I was very flattered to be asked to chair a task force, along with Pedro Russo from Universe Awareness, for children and schools after attending a workshop in Cape Town. There are 2 other task forces, along with ours, which tackle issues of public engagement and universities and research.