Inside the Bok

Here's me standing under the Bok 90inch (that's 2.3 meters for you metric peoples).

Here’s me standing under the Bok 90inch (that’s 2.3 meters for you metric peoples). The instrument we’re using is called 90prime, which is located at the top of the ‘scope. More on that below.

The control of the Bok 2.3m. On the left are the computers that control the instrument (i.e., filters, exposing), on the right is the telescope operations (i.e., slewing to new positions, moving dome, etc.).

The control room for the Bok 2.3m. On the left are the computers that control the instrument (i.e., filters, exposing), on the right is the telescope operations (i.e., slewing to new positions, moving dome, etc.).

We had a little trouble with our filter wheel on the second night of our observing run. The filter wheel is a mechanical wheel that holds different filters designed to let only certain ranges of light to pass through. Due to the problems we had to tip the telescope over to get at the instrument.

We had a little trouble with our filter wheel on the second night of our observing run. The filter wheel is a mechanical wheel built into 90prime that holds different filters; the filters are designed to let only certain ranges of light to pass through. Since 90prime is located at the top of the scope, we had to tip the telescope over to get at the instrument.

Mike, staff at the Steward Observatory, is helping us diagnose and fix our filter wheel issue. He's working on the instrument. The instrument, 90prime, sits at the prime focus of the telescope, and is about as tall as I am.

Mike, staff at the Steward Observatory, is helping us diagnose and fix our filter wheel issue. The image shows him working on the instrument. 90prime sits at the prime focus of the telescope (which is why we have to tip the telescope on its side to work on it). 90prime is an imager with a field of view of 1 square degree. To get an idea of the size, 1 square degree would be able to fit 4 full Moons in an a given image, since the Moon is about 0.5 degrees in angular size. Also note in the image we’re looking down at the 2.3 meter mirror. The star-like pattern is the opened mirror cover. When we want to protect the mirror we close the mirror cover.

The telescope is pointed at the white screen bathed in light from the halogen's below. This is what astronomer's call 'flat fielding.' When you build a CCD, not every pixel is going to respond the exact same way to light. In order to calibrate for this, you shine every pixel with the same amount of light, which then tells you how each pixel behaves differently. You can then 'flatten' the field using that image. Also looks spooky.

The telescope is pointed at the white screen bathed in light from the halogen bulbs below. This is what astronomer’s call ‘flat fielding.’ When you build a CCD, not every pixel is going to respond the exact same way to light. In order to calibrate for this, you shine every pixel with the same amount of light, which then tells you how each pixel behaves differently. You can then ‘flatten’ the field using that image. Also…. it looks spooky.

Ready and waiting for twilight to end. The dome has been opened and the scope is ready to start.

Ready and waiting for twilight to end. The dome has been opened and the scope is ready to start.

Outside the Bok

Haha. the Bok and the Bike. The Bok 90inch telescope towering over my tiny motorcycle.

Haha. the Bok and the Bike. The Bok 90inch telescope towering over my tiny motorcycle. The hand railing you see about 2/3rds of the way up the structure is known as the ‘Bok Walk.’ The white donut to the bottom right is the original cement mirror blank for the Bok. Since most telescopes are actually built before their mirror is completed, ‘mirror blanks’ are created in the exact dimension/weight of the mirror-to-be. The blank is installed so that the telescope can be balanced in advance of the mirror arriving. After it is no longer needed, the blank can become an exhibit piece.

The hatch leading from the telescope out onto the Bok Walk. It offers a fantastic view.

The hatch leading from the telescope out onto the Bok Walk. It offers a fantastic view.

This is taken from the Bok Walk looking over the road coming up the mountain.

This is taken from the Bok Walk looking over the road coming up the mountain.

The Bok and the Mayall telescopes. The Mayall 4m is one of the more famous telescopes on the mountain. It is the highest elevated telescope on the mountain (2120m), which is actually taller than the summit of Kitt Peak itself (2098m).

The Bok (left) and the Mayall (right) telescopes. The Mayall 4m is one of the more famous telescopes on the mountain. It is the highest elevated telescope at 2120m, which is actually taller than the summit of Kitt Peak itself (2098m).

test

[Roll mouse over to animate]. Heading to dinner before the night’s observing run I took a look back at the Bok telescope, among others. These ‘scopes are on the north-most part of Kitt Peak. This is shot is taken looking in the North direction.

goodview

[Roll mouse over to animate]. This is the view from the Bok Walk at sunset looking south over the whole of Kitt Peak (the Sun is setting off to the right). If you roll your mouse over the image you’ll see the location from which I took these images.

The Steward Observatory Kitt Peak Observing Station, erected in 1962.

The Steward Observatory Kitt Peak Observing Station, erected in 1962.

Motorcycling the Southwest: Day 2

Day 2: Flagstaff, AZ to Kitt Peak National Observatory, AZ

Distance: 590 km
Duration: approximately 11 hours
Picking up from the last post, I woke up for day 2 of riding feeling a little negative. I knew how cold it was outside, and I knew that I was going to have to ride through it, and bear it. On the plus side, the Sun was up, which makes it warmer, and I bought a pair of winter gloves at the gas station the night before. In order to keep out the cold I wore several layers both top and bottom, including my motorcycle rain gear. I put the winter gloves OVER my riding gloves (double layer gloves) and I hit the road. Though not before I noticed there was frost on my seat:

In the morning, my motorcycle was covered in a layer of frost. Gives you an idea of the temperatures.

In the morning, my motorcycle was covered in a layer of frost. Gives you an idea of the temperatures.

This time I was going to finish what I started: see Meteor Crater. Here’s a map of that trip:

The roughly 55 kilometer trip from Flagstaff to Meteor Crater

The roughly 55 kilometer trip from Flagstaff to Meteor Crater. Click for Interactive Map.

By the time I got to Meteor Crater, my hands had frozen again (even with both gloves on), but it was much more manageable. I’ve really wanted to visit Meteor Crater for a long time. I’ll let me explain why it’s so cool:

As you can see the crater is HUGE. Actually you may not be able to see; there is a huge depth perception issue when looking into the crater. Trying to picture the opposite rim of the crater being over a kilometer across is very difficult. The crater is also the site of some in-field geologic training the Apollo astronauts took in the mid 1960s to prepare for working near craters on the Moon.

This is a small chunk of many found near the impact site of Meteor Crater. It's an iron/nickel mixture.

This is a small chunk of many found near the impact site of Meteor Crater. It’s an iron/nickel mixture.

I bought this small chunk of the meteorite from the gift shop of the museum. Meteor crater has been outfitted with a wonderful visitor centre. It has a museum, movie theatre, gift shop, guided tours, and other artifacts strewn about the complex. For instance, they have lunar test capsule you can at:

lunar capsule

A test capsule for training astronauts going to the Moon.

Honestly, I could have spent all day at this facility, but I had to put kilometers on the motorcycle otherwise I wouldn’t make my next target: the Kitt Peak National Observatory. Here’s one last picture:

yup

yup. The crazy thing is, from about 30 kilometers away from it, on approach, I could see the crater walls lifting above the plains.

The rest of the trip, while relatively short on the map (again you should look at the interactive map I have here), took me all day. That may partially be due the detour I took through Sedona, Arizona. Instead of taking the same I-17 south that I took north into Flagstaff, I took the scenic route, which features a large number of switchbacks down from the mountain area. This actually had two upsides: scenic, and got warmer quicker.

Here's a shot just starting out the switchbacks down into Sedona, AZ. That's what my road looked like for the next 30 kilometers

Here’s a shot just starting out the switchbacks down into Sedona, AZ. That’s what my road looked like for the next 30 kilometers

Stopping to take in the scenery.

Stopping to take in the scenery.

It was a long boring drive after that to get to Tucson, AZ, where I met up with another astronomer to get set up for my night on Kitt Peak. Unfortunately, I was behind schedule again and started my last leg of the journey out to Kitt Peak right when the Sun was going down. This means I had to ride nearly 2 kilometers up a mountain in the dark. This wasn’t as bad, however, as it was much warmer where the observatory is, and I had been there before. When I finally summited, the (almost) full Moon was bright in the sky. It’s pale glow bouncing off of the nearby observatories.

The Steward Observatory's Bok Telescope (foreground) and the Mayall 4-meter telescope (background). This image is entirely light by the Moon

Ghosts of telescopes in the Moonlight. The Steward Observatory’s Bok Telescope (foreground) and the Mayall 4-meter telescope (background). This image is entirely light by the Moon.

Once arrived, it was time to get into observing mode: stay up as late as I can to push my body into a night time rhythm. After my day of riding, I only made it to 1am. Not bad!

The 60cm Mirror

The York Observatory's 60 cm telescope recently had its primary mirror removed for cleaning and re-aluminizing. Don't usually get up close to the mirror like this.

The York Observatory‘s 60 cm telescope recently had its primary mirror removed for cleaning and re-aluminizing. Don’t usually get up close to the mirror like this.

The 60cm mirror fits into the bottom of this tube, which is the barrel of the telescope.

The 60cm mirror fits into the bottom of this tube, which is the barrel of the telescope.

MDM Observatory: Day 3

Today I went up to the Kitt Peak Visitors Centre to check out their outreach initiatives and giftshop/etc.  This is the visitor centre building.

That’s right, the visitor centre has its own observatory.  In fact, the visitor centre has at least 3 telescopes!  Impressive.  In the centre they had a number of small exhibits and information on the mountain/observatories/history/etc.  Very fun, I found a very large meteorite:


The centre was very good explaining the science behind telescopes, mirrors, and observing.  Here’s me at the focus of a small primarty!

I already posted this pic in twitter today, but it warrants another post here.  This telescope is so big, the instrument+detector are as tall as me!

While I don’t appreciate the clouds at night, they make for an amazing sunrise