Thursday 13 June 2013

Big Telescopes update

I have seriously neglected the blog for far too long, and it isn't because there hasn't been any news to report, certainly not. There has been plenty, but work has been busy, and I haven't been disciplined enough to set aside time to keep you all updated. But, I'm getting back into it now, and it seems fitting that I should do that almost exactly 1 year to the day since I set off for Chile on my wonderful WCMT Fellowship adventure (by the way, applications are open for next year's round of Fellowship funding).

Since I last wrote, various different big telescopes have gone through some excellent stages. I shall attempt to summarise in chronological order, without overloading you too much...

The Very Large Telescope and KMOS

Back in November, KMOS achieved first light on the Very Large Telescope. You may remember, this is the instrument which my colleagues at the UK Astronomy Technology Centre were heavily involved in and was shipped out to Chile just as I was coming home. After its arrival at the Paranal Observatory in August, it was checked out (for any damage during shipping etc.) and then fitted to the Nasmyth platform in September and October.

KMOS on the Nasmyth Platform of UT1 at first light
 KMOS is only the second of the 'second generation' instruments to be fitted to the VLT.

For a reminder of what KMOS is, have a look at this STFC 'Backstage Science' video clip

Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy (VISTA) celebration

At the start of this year, in January, the Royal Observatory Edinburgh hosted a meeting called 'VISTA: A Celebration'. This meeting brought together many of the scientists and engineers who have been involved in this project over the years. There were talks about the planning and construction, as well as talks about the fantastic science VISTA has done so far and talks about the future.

VISTA has been operational since late 2009 and has given us some spectacular images including this amazingly detailed image of the Milky Way

Using this data from VISTA, astronomers have been able to create a catalogue of over 84 million stars in the central parts of the Milky Way. Wow!

Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimeter Array (ALMA) Inauguration

In March this year, ALMA had its official inauguration ceremony - this marked the formal transition from a construction project to a fully fledged observatory, although not all the dishes are actually in place just yet at the Operations Site.

At work, we gathered in the canteen to watch the live stream of the celebration from Chile and even had an ALMA cake to enjoy!!

Since first light in 2011, with a partial array of just 16 dishes, ALMA has already given some very interesting science results about galaxies, planet formation and stellar evolution.

When I visited ALMA, there were just 34 dishes in place at the Operations Site. As of 29th May there were 59 antennas in place. I was very excited back in February, as the final North American dish was put in place at the 5000m site. When I visited the Operations Support Facility back in July last year, I posted a photo showing the final North American dish still in the construction hanger. Just goes to show that the construction of the dish itself is just one part of the whole process of building the observatory.

The latest ALMA press release sheds light on how dust particles in the disc around a young star can clump together to start to form things like comets and planets. You can read the full press release on the ESO website.

European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT) - UK support confirmation

Also in March this year, we had confirmation that the UK will participate in the E-ELT project - great news for my colleagues at the UK ATC. Since then, Portugal and Denmark have both confirmed their participation in the project too, and Danish company Ramboll have secured the contract to provide consultancy services to ESO during the construction of the huge dome required for the E-ELT. Construction of the E-ELT will hopefully start later this year.

James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) update

The last blog entry I wrote was about the second of the instruments for JWST having been delivered to Goddard, keeping the UK ATC led MIRI company. In May, the MIRI was installed into the structure which will hold all the flight instruments.

MIRI being fitted to the Webb structure
So, I think that about does it for a brief round of the main big telescopes news since I last wrote. The next few entries are actually going to be 'guest' blog entries from 2 friends who are out in La Palma.


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