Last night, the 0.4m telescope in the back parking lot (BPL) produced the first fully 'sequenced' observation with the new control system. The sequencer is the layer of software which sits on top of all the low-level telescope, instrument, and enclosure control systems and figures out what all needs to be done to accomplish an observation. It then 'sequences' those operations to satisfy their dependencies (e.g. don't start exposing until the enclosure is open) and sees them through to completion.
The attached image is the product of a command to observe M101 being received by the system with the enclosure closed, the telescope parked, and the instrument in an unknown state. The sequencer automatically opened the enclosure, homed the telescope, slewed to the source, commenced the telescope tracking, configured the instrument, and commanded a 5 minute exposure with as much parallelism as possible.
There is still much work to be done, but serious congratulations go out to all the members of the software and engineering teams who made this possible. This is a great step forward for us in creating our robotically scheduled global telescope network.
For the past week Richard Miles (BAA) has been following an as-yet unidentified object orbiting the Sun (dubbed 2010 KQ), using Faulkes Telescope North. Recent observations suggest it is a man-made object with an exciting past.
There has been steady progress at our Cerro Tololo , Chile site over the past few month. Here are latest photos from Enrique (who is project managing the ground work for us in Chile). This might not look like much but it represents a significant advance in the readiness of the site to house telescopes. Earlier on this year the ground had some large boulders which need to be removed (or smashed up and then removed) and the whole site made level. In March 2010 the site was hit by an earthquake which reach 5.5 - 6 Richter, but none of the observatories were seriously affected and no telescopes were damaged. This is good news for us for the future.
When I represented LCOGT at last year's AstroDay, I never thought that we could meet with more people in a single day. We edged out last year when over 250 people visited our booth at AstroDay this year. Visitors played Messier Bingo, and when they called out "Biscuits" they received a copy of each of the four Faulkes Telescope North playing cards from the Mauna Kea Trading Cards set. People had so much fun playing Messier Bingo that some even stayed until they reached blackout, even though there was no additional prize to continue playing.
For those of you who have been following our news of recent comet observations and analysis by Richard Miles (BAA), he has provided us with an update on his observations of comet Vales.
Richard Miles from British Astronomical Association has been coordinating UK schools to make observations of a comet that is behaving strangely. Comet P/2010 H2 (VALES) underwent a major outburst around 2010 April 15 brightening by more than 1000 times (possibly even more than this) in a matter of a few hours. Before this date, the object was not known. After this date it had taken on the appearance of a 12th magnitude star. The comet sooon began to exhibit an expanding coma.
Observations using the Faulkes Telescope North some 15 days following the initial outburst have now revealed the presence of two extended jets of material spiraling out from the nucleus of the comet, as shown in the attached image. The locus of the most pronounced jet describes a constant rate of motion radially outwards from the nucleus equal to 0.54+/-0.03 arcsec/degree of rotation as shown in the associated plot. It is not clear whether the curvature of the jets is due to an external influence such as radiation pressure or the solar wind, or whether it is indicative of a very slow rotation rate of the nucleus. If the latter, then the rotation period of the nucleus would be exceptionally slow for this comet at around 90 days. Most comets have rotation periods of the order of 0.3-5 days. Slow rotation rates would lead to enhanced thermal stress owing to prolonged solar heating of the comet's surface and may be the underlying reason why this comet underwent a major outburst. Future observations are encouraged especially to folllow the development of the spiral structures within the coma.
If you had a chance to name a minor planet, what name would you give it and why? Naming X, a global online competition launches 30th April 2010 at: http://venetiaburneyphair.blogspot.com/p/competition.html