Thursday, 30 June 2011

Ice in the works

After spending two-and-a-half years somewhere in UKIRT's attic the wavefront sensor was brought out today and installed on the telescope. This is a relatively simple instrument that allows one to align the telescope and take out-of-focus images of the primary mirror which helps us to see any optical aberrations caused by the primary and secondary mirrors and correct them. The good news is everything worked first time, all the mechanisms moved correctly and I could take data. The bad news is that during the long hiatus moisture got into the CCD housing and since the detector is electronically cooled below the freezing point of water, ice formed very close to the CCD. You can tell it's close since the image shows ice crystals in focus (if they had been anywhere else, they would be out of focus and the image would just be one big blur). The good news again is that the ice is in the detector housing, it's a relatively easy problem to fix. The housing is already being baked in an oven to remove the water (yes, an oven, but not quite the same as you have in your kitchen!) .

Tomorrow the instrument will be put back together and I'll try again. I did try to take some images to see if I could at least align the secondary mirror, but it was all too blurry so will wait until tomorrow.

This is an image, taken through the ice, of the primary mirror covers. If the ice wasn't there you'd see marking indicating north, south, east and west and some markers to help me align the secondary (the lighted circle in the middle). The four black lines are the secondary vanes, the structure that holds the secondary mirror at the top of the telescope structure and the things that give rise to diffraction spikes you see in almost all astronomical images of bright stars.

In the meantime, my good friend Paul Hirst appeared on TV today, he often comments on this blog so you may have seen his contributions in the past plus I have been known to show a photo or two of his! I think he did a great job in the interview, especially as he didn't forget his old stomping ground, UKIRT.

You can see the interview via this KITV link.

It was nice to get back to the summit again although I have to admit I felt the altitude, it's been a long time since I was last up there. Back again tomorrow to see if the wavefront sensor works and then again on Sunday to begin a long shift back on the mountain. I'm looking forward to it and will try and post a few photos!

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

The most distant super-massive black hole ever discovered

Note - this posted yesterday but blogger was well and truly broken, so reposting now.

Artist's impression of the newly discovered quasar from the ESO press release.

I mentioned yesterday there was going to be a press release today, in fact there have been more than one but all are based on the discovery of a redshift seven quasar using UKIRT and subsequent followups at other telescopes. Just google "ulas quasar" and you'll see the news is everywhere although first point of call should be to the e-astronomers blog post (Andy Lawrence) as he's the head of UKIDSS, the survey in which the quasar was found. A little physics background can be also found at Peter Coles' blog.

This is a great result for both UKIDSS and UKIRT, something everyone in the respective teams should be proud of. Although not the most distant object ever detected (it's certainly way up in the list though) its redshift means it was formed not long after the big bang yet if our understanding of the physics is correct, there really wasn't enough time for an object as massive as this to form. As is often the case, an exiting science discovery leaves us with even more questions to answer.

I'd include the video from the ESO press release including the strange underwater sounds but Blogger is broken yet again and can't upload things properly. The video can be seen in Peter's blog. Remember, in space no one can hear you scream.

PS. It's now on youtube so enjoy the strange sound effects!

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

UKIRT science news

Watch out for a press release tomorrow, something about a quasar. UKIRT played a large role in this and it all looks rather exciting. There's also another story about a GRB (Gamma Ray Burst) which I haven't had time to get on the UKIRT home page, but hope to shortly along with the news about the quasar.

I even had the local rag call me today but couldn't tell them an awful lot since I hadn't actually seen the press release, but sure I'll be quoted as saying something I never said, or maybe wish I hadn't said.

More tomorrow, feeling very sleep-deprived right now.

Friday, 24 June 2011

Mystery picture

100 points to whoever can identify what this is. 1000 points to the person with the most amusing answer! -10 points to anyone who spoils the fun.

Do you need a clue? Well, I'll be analyzing images like this in just over a week and will likely post a few more like this to show how a telescope is made to work, well, maybe. I might post a few sunset pictures as well.

As for my health, thanks to everyone's comments and email. I think I'm almost back to where I was before this illness or whatever it was hit me and am certainly feeling much happier with things despite a rather heavy workload right now. I'm smiling again so think that means I'm almost there!

Thursday, 16 June 2011

It feels like years...

...since I was last here. That's means both posting on my blog and the summit of Mauna Kea. And just picking up a camera. I haven't done that for ages and still haven't, the panorama above is from a year ago with the old camera although I thought I'd remind myself how to use my computer again and reprocess a couple of pictures. I think my conclusion tonight is my photo-processing work flow is extraordinarily complicated and need to do something about it, because I couldn't remember one step from another. It'll likely take me a few months just to remember how to operate the shutter on my camera again.

So, just to update everyone, I'm better than I was two months ago but have hit a plateau. My head still hurts, probably due to overuse of my intellectually-challenged brain, but it's nowhere near as bad as before, it's just that there's been little change during the last three or four weeks.

British beer didn't help, nor did some nice wine and the most wonderful company. Jet-lag certainly wasn't a cure either but a trip to the UK and a couple of days in LA certainly took my mind off things, so in that respect I'm really happy I decided to travel halfway round the world and back again. It was with American Airlines as well, so if their level of providing passenger discomfort didn't make things worse, I think I'm good to go anywhere! I'm just so pleased my flight back from Blighty was on British Airways, at least as far as LA. They know how to make a nice cup of tea and provide entertainment during an eleven hour flight. Whoever chooses the movies shown on AA flights needs the sack.

Well, as you can probably tell, my brain isn't quite what it used to be, but with the help of the US health care system and given a lot of time, I'm confident it'll be back to where it was a few months ago with the additional stress of paying the medical bills. If they become excessive I can always start taking the Vicodin again, that way I won't worry about a thing!

I doubt I'll be posting an awful lot in the next month or so, but, despite the STFC's best efforts, I might actually be able to spend a few nights back on Mauna Kea's summit next month. If that happens I'll be able to bore you once again with some more summit pictures. Hope you don't mind.

Thanks again to everyone who's dropped a line or two in the last few weeks and my apologies if I didn't reply to you - as you can imagine it's been a difficult time but I really appreciate all your thoughts. They have meant a lot to me.