Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics
FLWO Ridge Telescopes
Issue No. 8, March 2008
The present memo is another report from the F. L. Whipple
Observatory. We chronicle FLWO activities and the status and progress
of telescopes, instruments and related equipment. The telescopes
involved are the 1.5m Tillinghast, the 1.2m, the 1.3m PAIRITEL and the
HATs. This belated report covers the period Dec 2006-Mar 2008. All
issues of these reports are posted at
If you have any comments, or for further information on any of the
projects below, please contact us.
The only instrument available is the Keplercam CCD.
Stelircam, the old IR camera, has been decommissioned.
for information on the camera.
- The FTS chiller system for the primary mirror has continued
performing well since Spring 2003. The system maintains the mirror
temperatures within about 0.2C of the telescope chamber ambient
temperature under observing conditions (see the link to temperatures
on the 1.2m web page). The chiller has been operating at high
efficiency since its upgrade in early Feb 2006.
- Remote observing remains popular. Observers who plan to observe
remotely should ensure to read the documentation and to contact the
staff well before their scheduled runs. It is essential for observers
who have never conducted remote observing, who are changing
configurations, or who have not used the system in the past year to
conduct a dry run of their computer platform before the start of their
- Installation of the telescope safety brakes was completed in
September 2006. These brakes are a fail-safe system, to be
applied only when a user pushes a panic button. The system consists of
a pump that maintains N2 pressure to the brakes (keeping them off)
until a panic button is pressed. We will enable the system as
we approach completion of the automation project.
- We are proceeding with automation of the 1.2m, to allow queued
operation similar to that of PAIRITEL. We expect we will have
several components ready after the 2008 summer shutdown. We are
currently planning software development for queued observations.
- The Keplercam CCD camera continued performing extremely well. There
were two episodes early in 2008, when the CCD temperature control
failed to maintain the temperature at operating values. However, the
problems were solved in time so there was no need for a "bake."
- In November 2007, the new U filter was found to be leaking CuSO4,
which blocks the "red leak." Custom Scientific repaired the filter
at no cost; it has been available again since 02/04/08.
- PAIRITEL is now available to the CfA community for IR observations
instead of the decommissioned Stelircam.
Tillinghast 1.5-meter Telescope
The instruments available are FAST (dark time), Echelle and TRES (bright
tdc-www.harvard.edu for information on each instrument.
Telescope status and projects:
- We monitor the sensitivity of FAST and the telescope optics by
observing a small set of standard stars with a 5" slit and the 300gpm
grating. Visit www.sao.arizona.edu/FLWO/60/fast/fast_updates.html
- We re-aluminized the primary mirror during the 2007 shutdown. We
used the UA Sunnyside facility as usual. Because of their time
constraints, we did not have a chance to also re-aluminize the
secondary, but its appearance remains quite good. The quality of the
coating was excellent.
- Dial indicators are now mounted permanently on the cell, to show
any motion of the primary relative to the cell. These proved
useful as we optimized the collimation of the telescope in November
2007. The primary had not been in an optimal position which degraded
the throughput. It is now back to the expected throughput.
Instrument status and projects:
- The FAST3 CCD for FAST has performed very well. There were two
inadvertent warm-ups that required baking the CCD, but it
returned to its previous high sensitivity.
- The Echelle continued producing useful data, with only occasional,
relatively minor hiccups. In the near future, it will be replaced with TRES.
- The new high-throughput, fiber-fed TRES (Tillinghast Reflection
Echelle Spectrograph) saw first light in June 2007, thanks to the
leadership of Andy Szentgyorgyi and Gabor Furesz. Working with Gabor,
Ted Groner developed software required for the CCD, the TCS interface
and the motorized instrument stages. Wayne Peters configured a
controller for a stepper motor, along with an encoder, limit switch,
and power supply. Doug Mink wrote quick-reduction scripts to allow the
observer to examine the data at the telescope and is working with
Gabor on a reductions pipeline to process the data in Cambridge. TRES
is now available as a facility instrument that observers can propose
- Deb Woods modified the WFS that she built for the 1.2m, to use it
on the 1.5m telescope. It saw first light on 10/15/07, but a detailed
analysis of the data remains to be completed. Because of the
difficulties with the software we have used, we are pursuing
acquisition of an upgrade to our existing software key for Sensoft
(made by SpotOptics for their Puntino Shack-Hartmann WFS). We expect
to use the WFS regularly to monitor the collimation.
PAIRITEL 1.3-meter Telescope
The instrument available on PAIRITEL is the 2MASS IR camera.
Click here for information on the camera.
Telescope status and projects:
- The robotic telescope continues performing extremely well,
performing queued observations.
- The Vaisala WXT510 weather station has replaced the less reliable
RainWise unit, thanks to software by Dan Starr and Josh Bloom. Wayne
Peters has been tracking problems with the rain sensing in this and
the MEarth unit, but these units are reliable for measurements of wind
speed and direction, relative humidity and temperature.
- PAIRITEL joined the other Ridge telescopes as a FLWO facility
telescope. Josh Bloom (at Berkeley) remains PI of the project and
continues overseeing PAIRITEL operations and data flow, while FLWO
staff provide maintenance and support with observations as needed. The
operations remain automatic and queue-based. Observers may now submit
proposals to the CfA TAC to use PAIRITEL. CfA has an allocation of 48%
of the time available, Berkeley (Josh Bloom et al.) 48% and U. of
Virginia 4% (Mike Skrutskie).
The HATs (Hungarian-made Automated Telescopes) are part of HATNet, a
network of six 11-cm diameter, wide-field (8x8 degrees) robotic
telescopes. The FLWO contingent includes 4 of these telescopes, plus
TopHAT, a 25-cm diameter robotic telescope for follow-up of HATNet
The goal of the project is to find exoplanets and to monitor bright
cfa-www.harvard.edu/~gbakos/HAT/index.html for information on
- Gaspar Bakos continued regular observations with the HATNet,
including the FLWO HATs.
- 7 transiting planets, HAT-P-1b through HAT-P-7b have been confirmed
and published since 2006, with more in the pipeline.
- The program to monitor sky brightness (see previous FLWO Reports) and
monitor the effect of light pollution continues.
The MEarth project will target about 2,000 nearby M dwarfs to find
earth-sized planets in their habitable zones. It will use 8 RCOS
Paramount ME 16-inch telescopes to search for transits. David
Charbonneau is the PI; post-doc Jonathan Irwin and graduate student
Philip Nutzman are his collaborators.
The telescopes are being installed in the old APT building, which
includes a spacious chamber with a roll-off roof. Preparations,
starting with cleanup of the building which had become a warehouse,
started in fall 2007. Currently, 2 of the telescopes are installed and
undergoing tests. The telescopes and their CCD cameras are being
integrated as a robotic system. We expect the full system to be in use
within the next few months.
Wayne Peters and Bob Hutchins have led activities such as running
optical fiber, purchasing and installing data communications,
designing and installing controls for the roll-off roof, and
installing a new Vaisala WXT510 weather station, with EF
coordinating. Support staff, including Rodger Harris, Dennis Jankovsky
and Dave Martina were essential in many of the steps necessary for the
success achieved so far. We expect that once the system is running,
the impact on the ridge staff will be minor.
- Please refer to the MMT's own quarterly report.
- Mike Calkins and Perry Berlind continued assisting production
observations as fiber-Meisters and all-around observers with Hectospec
and Hectochelle. They occasionally assisted with Megacam
observations. That has meant requesting that observers, especially
graduate students, come to FLWO to observe with FAST, the Echelle and
TRES. We are thankful to the many dedicated observers who have been
willing to travel here. But we will continue needing help.
- Ridge staff continued providing assistance with SAO instrument and
computer and network installation and maintenance, as required.
- We continue to update online documentation as changes occur, often
thanks to observers' comments.
- Mike Calkins continues serving as safety officer and Perry
Berlind as property officer.
- Dan Brocious and EF continued working on containing light
pollution. See www.sao.arizona.edu/FLWO/whipple.html for updates on
our efforts to contain light pollution near FLWO. Santa Cruz County
is about to adopt the updated outdoor lighting code that we (EF and
DB) have proposed. We developed the code with county staff assistance
over the past 3 years. The code is a greatly simplified version of the
Pima County code, adapted for the much smaller Santa Cruz County. The
Planning & Zoning Commission (P&Z) considered it in a study session on
02/21/08. It was well received, so the next step is a public
hearing with P&Z on 03/27/08, where it will likely be approved, and
the final step after that will be an appearance at a Board of
Supervisors hearing where we hope for adoption.
Several new projects likely will have a significant impact on FLWO:
www.sao.arizona.edu/FLWO/LIGHT/pollution.html for details.
- a) Proposed developments in Santa Cruz County, just south of Amado:
Las Mesas and Sopori. These could bring over 10,000 new houses and
- b) Commercial development in the Sahuarita area just north of Green
Valley continued, including the Rancho Sahuarita shopping district,
with a new 195,000 sq. ft. Fry's supermarket.
- c) Augusta Resources of Canada has proposed a new open-pit copper mine
(Rosemont) in the Santa Rita mountains, about 10 miles NE of FLWO in
Pima County. The proposal has encountered significant opposition, see
www.scenicsantaritas.org. It has also prompted Congressional action
toward modifying the outdated 1872 mining law. As the mine would use
Coronado National Forest land, the Forest Service, as required by
regulations, is currently proceeding with the NEPA process.
- d) Border Patrol activities including a permanent checkpoint on
the I-19 freeway in the Amado area, with extremely bright lighting.
Emilio E. Falco
670 Mt. Hopkins Road
P.O. Box 97
Amado, AZ 85645 USA