UCO Newsletter #6: October 2009

Dear colleagues, here is some UCO news from the last six months. Please feel free to send me comments or corrections or to bring additional newsworthy events to my attention.

Regards, Mike

Congratulations to Frank Shu (UCSD-left photo) on being awarded the Shaw Prize for 2009 and the Catherine Wolfe Bruce Medal for lifetime achievement in astronomy. These awards are very fitting recognition of Frank's many fundamental contributions to astronomy and astrophysics in the last four decades.

Congratulations also go to Alex Filippenko who this year became the 21st active UC astronomer elected to the National Academy of the Sciences and to his colleague at UC Berkeley Geoff Marcy who won the 2009 Wonderfest Carl Sagan Prize (Filippenko and Marcy middle photo).

Jerry Nelson was this year's Raymond and Beverly Sackler Lecturer in Leiden. He follows fellow UC astronomers Geoff Marcy, Andrea Ghez and Charles Townes as recipients of this honor (Nelson with Terry Mast, right photo).

Lick Observatory News

Automated Planet Finder
April 21, 2009 the Automated Planet Finder Telescope was installed in the dome! Initial testing showed this to be a very good telescope. By June 11, sufficient tuning and testing had been completed that Ken Johnston of the US Naval Observatory signed off for USNO after reviewing the performance test data and watching the telescope and dome be run through a series of motions.

APF fork being lowered into the dome

The UCO contracts with EOS (dome) and EOST (telescope) have additional performance requirements. As of the end of September, we are very close to completion and final signoff. One problem, that the back focal distance is not right for the spectrometer, is being addressed with a new secondary being fabricated and coated in the UCO labs.

The USNO acceptance test "team." From the left, Ken Johnston USNO, EOST CEO Hugo Keyner, Myra Katsuki, Will Deich and Jeff Lewis from UCO, Aaron Evers (EOST) and Shelby Stubbe (EOST) and Steve Vogt.

Once the final acceptance of the telescope and dome is made, the Levy Spectrometer will be installed. All spectrometer components are completed and final alignment and end-to-end testing is starting mid-October.

David Hilyard and Lee Laiterman preparing the Levy Spectrometer grating for installation.

Lick Observatory Graduate Workshops

35 first-year graduate students attended one of two 3-day workshops held at Lick Observatory this Fall. The idea is to introduce the new UC astronomy graduate students to Lick Observatory, observational techniques and one another. Based on the feedback from the students, the initial year of this program was a great success. Thanks to the Lick Observatory support scientists, Ellie Gates, Bryant Grigsby and Thomas Lowe for their efforts planning and running the two workshops. Proceeds from the Davidson Fund were used to support the workshop.

The attendees of the second 2009 Lick Observatory graduate student workshop (photo credit: Laurie Hatch)

NSF MRI grant for AO at the 3m Telescope

We submitted a proposal for $2M to the 2009 MRI program to make very substantial improvements to the 3m AO system and IRCAL, the camera working behind AO at Lick. This will be a MEMS-based system building on the "Villages" heritage. The predicted strehl of the system is shown below. Point source sensitivity is predicted to be at least a factor of 10 higher for the 1 - 2.2 micron region. The proposal PI was the Laboratory for Adaptive Optics Director Don Gavel. Thanks to Connie Rockosi for providing some of the required matching funds from her Packard Fellowship and for taking responsibility for working with the team to plan and execute this effort.

Predicted performance of the new 3m AO system

James Lick Award and Celebration of Telescopes

On September 26, a celebration of the 400th year of the telescope and 50th anniversary of first light of the Shane 3m telescope was held at Mt Hamilton. The highlight of the evening for me was the opportunity to present the first James Lick Award to Ken and Gloria Levy. The Levys provided a generous gift that has allowed the completion of real heart of the APF capabilities: the Levy Spectrometer designed by Steve Vogt.

Guest speaker Geoff Marcy with the Levy family

Ken and Gloria Levy

Proceeds from the event will go toward initial operations of the APF. We had generous support from two sponsors, Dr. Mort Grosser and Alan and Marianne Austin. Thank you to Geoff Marcy for an excellent talk at the event.

Keck Observatory News

LRIS-R upgrade

The upgrade of the LRIS-R detectors, electronics, software, dewar and focus mechanism was completed with the successful commissioning in early June 2009. The new focal plane is composed of two LBNL high-resistivity devices with outstanding quantum efficiency between 650nm and 1000nm and effectively no fringing. There is some charge smearing apparent in the signal from one of the CCDs that was not seen in the lab or initially at the telescope. After lots of clever sleuthing work by WMKO and UCO folks including a quick return of the dewar to Santa Cruz, the problem has been traced to CCD package. One half of the problem CCD was recovered and the dewar returned with 3/4 of the focal plane (1 chip + 1/2 chip) science ready. With WMKO and the SSC, we are looking into more permanent and better fixes.

Despite this setback, congratulations and thanks to the team at Santa Cruz led by PI Connie Rockosi and the expert support in Hawaii.

Fringing is extremely low in the new chips

The LRIS-R team in Santa Cruz

Keck Science and Scientific Strategic Planning Meeting 2009

The 2009 Science with Keck meeting was held in the new Cahill Building at Caltech. The day before the meeting a set of presentations about potential future IR capabilities was presented and the day after the Science meeting a well-attended all-day session on the Keck Scientific Strategic Plan was held. As always, I found the Science meeting to be very interesting with (uniformly) well-presented talks covering a wide swatch of research areas with most of the results right at the cutting edge. A number of thoughtful ideas and discussions came out of the meetings before and after the Science meeting. The Keck Science Steering Committee will merge the ideas from the community into the Scientific Strategic Plan that has been under discussion for the last 12 months and put forward a plan that will be used to guide decisions at Keck. Thanks to Mike Brown (CIT) and Ian McLean (UCLA), the organizers of the meeting this year.

Hilton Lewis, Jerry Nelson and Jim Omura from the Moore Foundation at the Keck Science Meeting 2009


MOSFIRE has just started its third cooldown in the Caltech shop, and the first for which the configurable slit unit will be installed is scheduled for mid-October. This is the phase of a project when lots of rubber hits the road. The first-light date has slipped from June 2010 to August, however, progress is steady and with each cooldown additional significant risks are being retired.

The MOSFIRE configurable slit unit ready for installation

Thirty-Meter Telescope

On July 21, the TMT Board selected Mauna Kea as the preferred site for the TMT. Site selection is an important step for the project. The process forward is to complete an acceptable final Environmental Impact Statement and, after the Office of Mauna Kea Management completes four subplans of the Comprehensive Management Plan for the Mauna Kea Science Reserve, to submit a Conservation District Use Application and have a Comprehensive District Use Permit issued.

The TMT Board is in discussions with astronomers and officials from China, India and Brazil about potential partnership in the TMT project. As announced in August, China has selected TMT as the next-generation large telescope project they would like to join.

In other TMT news, there is the usual (i.e. very high) level of activity on a huge number of fronts. Of particular note was the down-select of actuators and sensors in September.

Other UCO News
The Gemini Planet Imager (GPI) is a very ambitious high-performance AO system and imager designed to make direct detection of extra-solar planets. The project PI is Bruce Macintosh (LLNL) and Project Scientist is James Graham (UCB). The deformable mirror (a MEMS device) and heart of the AO system has been under development at the Laboratory for Adaptive Optics in Santa Cruz and the spectrometer is designed and built at UCLA. This is a widely distributed project with other components being developed and built at the Herzberg Institute for Astrophysics, JPL, The American Museum of Natural History, and the University of Montreal. In early 2010 it will all come together in Santa Cruz for integration and end-to-end testing. The highbay in the Santa Cruz shops has been transformed in anticipation of the arrival of GPI components with a general cleaning up, sealing of the floor and two cleanrooms installed.

Dick Kanto in the UC Santa Cruz highbay preparing for the arrival of GPI components

UC and UCO budget cuts

It has been a difficult two years with end-of-the-year budget reductions in June for FY2009 and a 12.5% reduction in the UCO budget for FY2010 (starting July 1 2009). UCO employees are also participating in the UC furlough program. I am working with the UCO management, the UCOAC and UCOP to identify significant belt-tightening measures for this year. These include leaving several positions open that have been vacated due to retirements in the last 18 months, reducing support at Mt Hamilton for at least this year and reducing the level of support by UCO staff for Keck Observatory. Specifically for Mt Hamilton, PFCam will not be offered for semester 2010A, Gemini will be scheduled for at most one run and the Crossley Telescope will not be scheduled.

At the same time we are faced with significant reductions in state funding, we have been successful in competing at the NSF, within the TMT project, and in other venues for funding. A significant component of the long history of excellence for Lick Observatory and now UCO has been the base of state support that has allowed UCO to build a stable group of outstanding personnel for technical programs. For the immediate future we will by necessity move to a model with a larger fraction of soft funding. My view is that this is not a path that is sustainable in the long term and I will work to restore the UCO base as the state economy improves in the coming years.

Newsletter #5 March 2009

Members of the UC astronomy community,

This newsletter contains news of interest since the last update in June of 2008. If you have any comments, or items to add that I have overlooked, please feel free to contact me at bolte@ucolick.org. I'm trying a new format here for the newsletters. The images can all be clicked for a larger version.

Major Prizes in Astronomy

University of California astronomers have won a number of prestigious awards in the last year.

Andrea Ghez (UCLA) was awarded a MacArthur
Fellowship and was elected into the National Academy of the Sciences.

Sandy Faber (UC Santa Cruz) was awarded the Bower Award and Prize for Achievement in Science from the Franklin Institute.

Enrico Rameriz-Ruiz (UC Santa Cruz)
and Steven Furlanetto
(UCLA) were awarded Packard Fellowships. They join Connie Rockosi (UC Santa Cruz), Alice Shapley (UCLA) and Thomaso Treu (UCSB) as current Packard Fellows.

Reinhard Genzel (UCB) won the 2008 Shaw Prize, joining Saul Perlmutter (2006
UCB-SSL) and Geoff Marcy (2005 UCB) as recipients of this prestigious international award.

Claire Max (UC Santa Cruz) won the Princeton Madison Award and was elected into the National Academy of the Sciences.

Eliot Quataert (UCB) received the Warner Prize of the AAS for 2008.

Finally, Mark Krumholz (UC Santa Cruz) was awarded a 2009 Sloan Fellowship. He joins
Alice Shapley (UCLA), Tomaso Treu (UCSB) and Josh Bloom (UCB) as current Sloan Fellows.

Congratulations to all.

Mt Hamilton

I'm happy to report progress on many fronts at Mt Hamilton. As of August, the 3m and 1m telescopes are now remotely accessible and increasingly used in that mode. The 3m was used remotely approximately 30% of the time and the 1m approximately 85% of the time in 2008. UCO has now provided Lick/Keck remote stations at eight of the campuses. Bob Kibrick at Santa Cruz has been the mastermind of this effort and it has been successful beyond all expectations.

Kris Miller in the remodeled 3m control room with Brian Marsteller using the new UC Irvine remote observations facility

This is the 50th anniversary of first-light for the Shane 3m and we are planning the summer visitor events around this and the 400th year of the telescope.

Kast Spectrometer: We received a generous gift from Bill and Marina Kast which allowed the purchase of a new CCD for the blue-side camera of the Kast Spectrometer and funded much of the work we have carried out in the last 6 months on the spectrometer. The Kast was brought to Santa Cruz for 9 weeks in early 2009 as the final stage of a complete updating with new motor control software, a thorough cleaning and tuning, new CCD controllers, new optics coatings and careful alignment of the optics.

Barry Alcott working on the Kast Spectrometer in the Santa Cruz lab.

3m Control Room and Kitchen: The remodel of the 3m kitchen is now complete! We also closed down observing at the 3m for two weeks in February to remodel the 3m control room. That project went well and the result is a big improvement.

Automatic Planet Finder (APF):
The APF telescope had first light at the EOST factory in Tucson late last Fall and passed Factory Acceptance Tests in February. The telescope is now packed for shipping and due to arrive at Mt Hamilton on April 6 (!). We are on a very tight schedule for signoff by USNO and the Navy before June 30, 2009. There has been a large amount of heroic work going on in the background to work with EOST to bring this facility on line. A crew from EOS has been at Mt Hamilton completing the final punchlist items for the dome and that will be ready for installation of the telescope. The Levy Spectrometer has been largely completed in Santa Cruz for the last 6 months.

A new telescope at Mt Hamilton is an exciting event. This particular facility--a system optimized for extra-solar planet discovery and dedicated to that purpose--is extraordinarily exciting.

Super-LOTIS: We obtained 50% access to a robotic imaging telescope at Kitt Peak and the initial interest has been very high. This is an 0.6m telescope originally sited in what is now the KAIT dome at Mt Hamilton. It is robotically queue scheduled for direct observations in five filters and with a 17 x 17 arcminute field. For now, Associate Director for Lick Observatory Burt Jones will make a call for proposals via e-mail each semester. There is an out-of-date WWW site describing the facility. We will shortly have a link at the UCO WWW site with more UC-relevant information.


Keck Observatory

(image from Sarah Anderson)

LRIS-Red Upgrade: The LRIS-R upgrade is nearly complete and on schedule for installation May 11. The science-grade CCDs are installed in the dewar in Santa Cruz and everything looks good. A team from Santa Cruz went out in mid-March to do a test fit of the new focus mechanism and various electronics boxes. As discussed in earlier newsletters, the new devices will have much higher quantum efficiency than the current device for wavelengths longer than 680nm and have no fringing at any wavelength.

LRIS-R new dewar in the clean room at Santa Cruz

MOSFIRE: All of the MOSFIRE optics have now been fabricated, coated and delivered, retiring a significant risk. The special reconfigurable slit unit has been built and successfully cold tested in Switzerland. MOSFIRE had its first two overall cooldowns. First light is currently scheduled for April 2010.

The MOSFIRE reconfigurable slit unit

Next Generation Adaptive Optics, NGAO: After the generally very successful external review of the project, concerns over the large price tag and current economic uncertainties led to a reconsideration of the NGAO program. A fixed price in as-spent dollars for the system plus instruments was imposed and the team reviewed the concept and made adjustments to the scope. The B2C (build to cost) version of NGAO was reviewed in a meeting in March 09 at LAX. The resulting concept remains an exciting future for Keck AO.

Keck Observatory Scientific Strategic Planning: The Keck Science Steering Committee has been leading an effort to update the Scientific Strategic plan for the observatory. There was a call for white papers on future capabilities for Keck and Jason Prochaska organized several video-based telecons to gather wide input for the updated Strategic Plan. A planning meeting was held in Half Moon Bay in the Fall of 2008 with members of the SSC, Keck Observatory leadership, CARA Board representatives and additional representatives from the UC, Caltech, NASA and University of Hawaii communities. Good progress has been made on identifying priorities for future capabilities, including new observing and scheduling modes. The completion of the Strategic Plan, including another round of input from the community, was sidetracked by the demands of the Astro2010 panels. It will be back on the front burner later this Spring.

The participants in the Half Moon Bay 2008 Keck Strategic Planning Meeting


The TMT project is nearing the completion of its design development phase and moving into early construction activities. There is much going on on many fronts, I'll report on just a few of
the activities here.

WFOS/MOBIE: Rebecca Bernstein (PI) and Bruce Bigelow (Project Manager) have developed a very compelling concept for the wide-field optical multi-object spectrometer for the TMT. In addition to a traditional LRIS/DEIMOS-like multi-slit, single spectral order mode, "MOBIE" has an echellete mode for which spectral coverage can be traded off with number of objects observed. The field of view for the MOBIE concept is ~9.5' x 4.5' and the spectral resolution for different options ranges from R~1000 to R~8000 with 0.75" slit width. This instrument passed an external review for feasibility in December 2008 with flying colors and is now in Conceptual Design phase.

Primary Mirror Segments: The TMT segment size is very similar to that of the E-ELT 42m telescope. This works out well for maintaining some competition between companies engaged in manufacturing segments. There are four companies currently developing the process for producing segments and doing so in a mass-production mode. We are expecting the first completed segment for TMT before June 2009.

Site: The decision on site for the TMT is still set for the July 2009 TMT Board meeting. In Chile, the equivalent of an Environmental Impact Statement study was completed and accepted and TMT now has legal status in the country. In Hawaii, the draft EIS work is being completed and on schedule to be submitted in May 2009. Before this, there will need to be an approved Comprehensive Management Plan (CMP) for Mauna Kea. The Office of Mauna Kea Management and consultants have been working hard for more than a year preparing the CMP. The draft plan was recommended for approval by the Mauna Kea Management Board in March and will go before the Land Board in April. I have personally been involved with the preparation of the draft EIS for TMT at Mauna Kea and am proud of the attention being paid to address the many environmental and cultural concerns associated with this unique place.

Partners: We remain enthusiastic about the idea from the 2000 Decadal Survey of a private-public partnership for the TMT. At the end of April, the NSF is conducting a readiness review of the TMT and GMT to evaluate the progress of each project toward fulfilling the 2000 Decadal Survey vision of a US Giant Segmented Mirror Telescope. This, plus the stimulus package of 2009 which has specified an additional $400M to go to the NSF MREFC program (which funds projects of the scale of ALMA, GSMT, ATST and LST), is an encouraging step toward realizing an NSF share. In addition, the TMT has hosted delegations from China and India and TMT representatives have made trips those countries to discuss mutual interests in partnering on the TMT construction and operations.

Joe Miller: Finally, I'd like to take note of Joe Miller's retirement at the end of February 2009 after 41 years at UC Santa Cruz. In addition to his distinguished career as an astronomer and astrophysicist, Joe was the UCO Director for 14 years. Although it was Bob Kraft's vision that resulted in UC involvement in the Keck Observatory, Joe played a crucial role in making that vision the terrific success it has been. Joe continued to set the aspirations for University of California astronomy at world-leading heights as one of the principal forces behind the CELT and then TMT projects. His leadership and long excellent record of service to UC and astronomy are very appreciated.

Joe Miller in 2005

(photo Laurie Hatch)