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.

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