Our first 1-meter open for science

Last night, October 1, 2012, was the first night of purely science operations for Las Cumbres Observatory’s first 1-meter telescope. The telescope is run remotely and robotically, taking queued observations from the LCOGT “POND” database, and executing them. The transition marks the completion of the engineering and science commissioning phases for the telescope.

LCOGT Telescope Operations team leader, Patrick Conway, checked in on the telescope from his base in Birkenhead, U.K., and noted that the enclosure was open and the telescope was “on sky and observing” by 22:42 UTC (17:30 local time). A few minutes later, the “local” TelOps technician, Mark Elphick checked in from his site at Haleakala Observatory in Maui. Elphick reported that “All looks OK. She is open and on sky.”

Installed at McDonald Observatory in Texas in April of this year, the telescope achieved first light and completed engineering commissioning in record time. Science commissioning followed with a team of Las Cumbres astronomers putting the telescope through its paces for the last four months.

Each night, the Proposal Observation Network Database (POND) is loaded with blocks of scheduled observations. These blocks include the necessary baseline exposures – flats, darks, and biases. These cover the full range of instrumentation and filters available on the McDonald 1-meter telescope.

The science observations follow, captured in LCOGT’s detailed FITS format. A small PNG file of each observation is also captured and forwarded via e-mail to the program astronomer for immediate review. The FITS data is passed to the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center (IPAC) data archive, the CalTech organization that performs data reductions and archiving for NASA, and is reduced and calibrated using the flats, darks and biases. The program astronomer can typically access the data in the IPAC archives within 48 hours.

The ability to turn the telescope over to the science team was based on the consistent robotic performance of the telescope and on the quality of the data produced. The science programs on the telescope are currently being run by Las Cumbres Observatory astronomers. The telescope will be open to network partners and participants at the next observing semester.

Instrumentation on the Las Cumbres 1-meter at McDonald is currently an SBIG STX-16803 4k large format, air and glycol cooled camera. Las Cumbres is in the final stages of production for their in-house designed Sinistro camera which will be deployed at McDonald next year. The Sinistro uses a Fairchild Imaging CCD 486 Back-Illuminated device and offers more optimized readout and filters. The medium resolution NRES spectrograph will be deployed to the site and will be accessible through the 1-meter network sometime in 2013 or 2014.

Las Cumbres Observatory is deploying 15 1-meter telescopes in an integrated global network, providing more than 30,000 hours of annual observing time for time domain astrophysics. They are currently installing the first full node of three 1-meter telescopes at Cerro Tololo this month.

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