Tag Archives: 2dF

AAT Outreach Exercise: “LMC Little Gems with CACTI”

Today, Thursday 24th November I’m the scheduled support astronomer at the Anglo-Australian Telescope (AAT). It is a “2dF+AAOmega service night”, meaning that I’ll be observing “service programs”, that is, science projects that require less than 6 hours in total to be completed, using the 2dF+AAOmega instruments at the 3.9m AAT.

Additionally, I’ve requested additional ~30 minutes to try to use the new CACTI camera to get a new, nice outreach image of an interesting object. As I did last May I’m asking the public to please provide feedback and help us to decide.

What do you want the AAT observes tonight?

For today’s observations I have chosen 4 objects located in the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC),  that is why I’ve called the experiment “LMC Little Gems using CACTI”.

The chosen 4 objects are these:

1. Stellar cluster + Nebula NGC 1949
2. Globular cluster NGC 2121
3. Supernova remnant NGC 2018
4. Stellar cluster + Nebula NGC 1850

Objects chosen for the "LMC Little Gems with CACTI" Outreach Exercise at the AAT. From top left to bottom right they are: 1. Stellar cluster + Nebula NGC 1949, 2. Globular cluster NGC 2121, 3. SN remnant NGC 2018, 4. Stellar cluster + Nebula NGC 1850. Credit of the images: Digital Sky Survey, except for NGC 1850 (ESO, image obtained using the FORS1 instrument at the VLT.

Objects chosen for the “LMC Little Gems with CACTI” Outreach Exercise at the AAT. From top left to bottom right they are: 1. Stellar cluster + Nebula NGC 1949, 2. Globular cluster NGC 2121, 3. SN remnant NGC 2018, 4. Stellar cluster + Nebula NGC 1850. Credit of the images: Digital Sky Survey, except for the image of NGC 1850, credited to ESO (image obtained using the FORS1 instrument at the VLT).

I chose objects in the LMC because this region of the sky can be observed during all night this time of the year.

In addition, getting these data for outreach purposes will not interfere too much with the scientific observations, as we need to change the configuration of the instrument (the gratings of the AAOmega spectrograph) and, while the night assistant is doing that, I will be taking the data of the object chosen by the public for this outreach exercise.

So, what do you think? What do you want the AAT observes tonight?

Please use your Twitter account and cast your vote following this link.

Assuming the weather is good and we don’t have any technical problems, I should have a new, nice outreach image obtained with CACTI at the AAT by tomorrow, Friday 25th November. Stay tuned!

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Spiral galaxy NGC 4027 with AAT: an outreach exercise

During this week I’m curator of the @astrotweep, a Twitter account that each week features an astronomer or planetary scientist taking about their research, science and life. I’m having a lot of fun with it, although I have to recognize it is extra work.

I chose to do it this week because there are some few things happening. In particular, I’m supporting observations at the Anglo-Australian Telescope (Siding Spring Observatory, NSW, Australia) using the 2dF / HERMES instruments. I thought it would be nice to be tweeting life how observations are doing. And that is precisely what I’ve doing today.

On top of that, “this morning” I had an idea. As we always have some “free time” at the AAT after completing the “2dF first night setup” (1) I decided to observe a nice bright deep sky object and get a nice image with the AAT. I was starting to search for a suitable target, but then I though, why don’t I ask the public what do they want to observe?

After consulting with my supervisors and getting the OK to do this, I initiated a poll in both @astrotweeps and @AAOastro asking the public to vote for one of the four following astro objects:

  1. The elliptical galaxy NGC 2865.
  2. The planetary nebula NGC 4361.
  3. The warped and almost edge-on spiral galaxy ESO 510-G13.
  4. The barred spiral galaxy NGC 4027.

For around 8 hours people were casting their vote, we received 153 unique votes in total combining the @AAOastro and the @astrotweets accounts.

And the winner (2) was… the barred spiral galaxy NGC 4027!

But surprises didn’t end here. In the afternoon, when I was starting to prepare the instruments for the night (I’m conducting observations remotely from Sydney), I explained to astronomers and technicians at the AAT what we were doing. Rob Paterson, our afternoon technician, then told me “Do you know we already have the new CCD camera installed in 2dF and just waiting for testing it?

Let me explain why I was so excited when I heard this. For years the 2dF instrument has had an auxiliary camera, the FPI camera, that we use for properly positioning 2dF in the requested field. Rarely it has been used for science, as it is just a 516×516 pixels camera without filters. Occasionally I have also used it for getting some images of deep sky objects. But, as it has no filters, I had to get the color of the images elsewhere, usually taking archive data taken with other telescopes. But the new CCD camera in 2dF does have filters!

Rob phoned Steve Lee, the head of the Night Assistants at the AAT, and with Bob Dean the three of them managed to prepare CACTI (that is the name of the new camera) to have it ready for us.

Although there is still a lot to be done and tests to be conducted, the very first images I got this evening are quite promising. Here is the final result:

Spiral galaxy NGC 4027 located at around 75 million light years in Corvus (The Crow). This barred spiral galaxy, also identified as Arp 22, is identified as a peculiar galaxy by the extended arm, thought to be the result of a collision with another galaxy millions of years ago. This image is the “First Light” of the new CACTI camera in 2dF @ 3.9m Anglo-Australian Telescope. Color image using B (4 x 120 s, blue) + V (6 x 60 s, green) + R (6 x 60 s, red) filters. The data were taken on 11 May 2016 as part of an “outreach exercise” via social media. Click here to get a higher resolution image. Credit: Ángel R. López-Sánchez (AAO/MQ) & Steve Lee, Robert Paterson & Robert Dean (AAO). Night assistant at the AAT: Andre Phillips (AAO).

Note that this image, that actually is the “first light” of the CACTI camera, only combines 6 minutes in V and R and 8 minutes in B, that is, it is not deep at all. Furthermore not extra calibrations were taken (some flatfield images would have been nice). The deep image obtained by the 3.6m NTT telescope (ESO La Silla Observatory, Chile) provides many more details and resolution… but of course they were using the EFOSC instrument, which was specifically designed for deep imaging in optical filters. And the  image of NGC 4027 obtained by David Malin (AAO) using photographic plates at the AAT in 1982 is much more colorful.

But I still think it is a pretty result, particularly as this new image of NGC 4027 was obtained as a completely improvised “outreach exercise” using social media, in which 153 people voted for their favorite object to be observed at the 3.9m Anglo-Australian Telescope.

I really hope to repeat this exercise soon.

(1) A 2dF Plate must be configured with a scientific field, that is, allocating ~350 optical fibres to different objects in the sky. This takes ~ 20-30 minutes.

(2) Just to provide the details of the votes, see table below:

OBJECT    @Astrotweeps   @AAOastro       COMBINED

NGC 2865               5                  4                    9    ( 6% )

NGC 4361            36                   9                   45   (29%)

ESO 510-G13      36                  7                     43   (28%)

NGC 4027           36                20                    56   (37%)

TOTAL              113                 40                   153

The oldest stars of the Galaxy

DP ENGLISH: This story belongs to the series “Double Post” which indicates posts that have been written both in English in The Lined Wolf and in Spanish in El Lobo Rayado.

DP ESPAÑOL: Esta historia entra en la categoría “Doble Post” donde indico artículos que han sido escritos tanto en español en El Lobo Rayado como en inglés en The Lined Wolf.

Last month the prestigious journal Nature published a letter led by PhD student (and friend) Louise Howes (@Lousie, ANU/RSAA, Australia). This scientific paper, with title Extremely metal-poor stars from the cosmic dawn in the bulge of the Milky Way, uses data from the 1.2m Skymapper Telescope, the 3.9m Anglo-Australian Telescope (both at Siding Spring Observatory, NSW, Australia) and the 6.5m Magellan Clay telescope (Las Campanas Observatory, Chile) to study very old stars in the Milky Way bulge.

Image of the Galactic centre obtained using Skymapper data. Credit: Chris Owen (ANU/RSAA).

Image of the Galactic centre obtained using Skymapper data. Credit: Chris Owen (ANU/RSAA).

The aim of the research was to look for signatures of really old stars: stars that old that perhaps the Milky Was was not even born when they were created! How do astronomers know that? Just studying the chemical composition of the stars via deep spectral analysis. Only hydrogen and helium (and just a bit of litium) were formed in the Big Bang: the rest of elements have been created or inside the stars (oxygen, carbon, nitrogen, iron) or because of processes happening to the stars (e.g., supernova explosions, that create heavy elements such as gold, silver, copper or uranium). As time goes by and new generations of stars are born, the amount of metals (for astronomers, metals are all elements which are not hydrogen and helium) increases. Therefore if we discover a star with very few amount of metals, we will quite sure we are observing a very old object.

Loiuse has been using the 2dF instrument at the Anglo-Australian Telescope and the MIKE spectrograph at the Magellan Clay Telescope (Chile) to get deep, high-resolution spectra of candidate old stars in the Galactic bulge. The candidate stars were identified using optical images provided by the 1.2m Skymapper Telescope. With these observations, Louise Howes and collaborators have detected 23 stars that are extremely metal-poor. These stars have surprisingly low levels of carbon, iron and other heavy elements. Indeed, they report the discovery of a star that has an abundance of iron which is 10,000 times lower than that found in the Sun! These stars were formed at redshift greater than 15, that is, we are observing in our own Milky Way stars that were formed just ~300 million years after the Big Bang!

On top of that, the study suggests that these first stars didn’t explode as normal supernova but as hypernova: poorly understood explosions of probably rapidly rotating stars producing 10 times as much energy as normal supernovae. The high-resolution spectroscopic data have been also used to study the kinematics of these very old stars, that are found on tight orbits around the Galactic centre rather that being halo stars passing through the bulge. This is also characteristic of stars that were formed at redshifts greater than 15.

Short 3 minutes video discussing the results found in this study. Credit: ANU.

I’m happy to say here that I’ve been the support astronomer for many of her nights at the AAT the last couple of years. And I’m extremely happy to see that, even because of the bad weather we have had sometimes, they managed to get these observations published in Nature! Well done, Louise!

More details:

Scientific paper in Nature: Howes et al. 2015, Extremely metal-poor stars from the cosmic dawn in the bulge of the Milky Way, 11 November 2015.

Scientific paper in arXiv

ANU Press Release

Light and Astrophysics: My post for the IYL15 blog

DP ENGLISH: This story belongs to the series “Double Post” which indicates posts that have been written both in English in The Lined Wolf and in Spanish in El Lobo Rayado.

DP ESPAÑOL: Esta historia entra en la categoría “Doble Post” donde indico artículos que han sido escritos tanto en español en El Lobo Rayado como en inglés en The Lined Wolf.

Post originally published on 17th March 2015 in the International Year of Astronomy 2015 (IYL15) blog with the title Light and Astrophysics. The Spanish version of this article was published in Naukas.com.

Unlike the rest of sciences, Astrophysics is not based on carefully experiments designed in a laboratory but in the direct observation of the Universe. Astrophysicists get their data via the analysis of the light we receive from the Cosmos. For achieving this we use extremely sensitive instruments that collect the light emitted by planets, stars, nebulae and galaxies. Certainly, there are some alternative ways to study the Universe besides using the light, as analyzing meteorites or moon rocks, detecting energetic particles such as cosmic rays and neutrinos, or perhaps even using gravitational waves if they actually exist. But the main tool astrophysicists have today to investigate the Cosmos is the study of the radiation we receive from the outer space. Light is the key piece of the Astrophysics we make today.

As the aim is to observe the very faint light coming from objects located even billions of light years away, astronomical observatories are built in relatively isolated places, which are typically located high over the sea level. To observe the Universe, we astrophysicists need dark skies that are not affected by the nasty light pollution created by our society. The inadequate use of the artificial light emitted by streetlight of the cities induces an increasing of the brightness of the night sky. This happens as a consequence of the reflection and diffusion of the artificial light in the gases and particles of dust of the atmosphere. Besides the huge economic waste that it means, light pollution also has a very negative impact on the ecosystem, increases the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and drastically diminishes the visibility of the celestial bodies. Unfortunately the light pollution is the reason that a large part of the mankind cannot enjoy a dark starry sky. How is the firmament when we observe it from a dark place? This time-lapse video shows as an example the sky over Siding Spring Observatory (Australia), where the Anglo-Australian Telescope (AAT), managed by the Australian Astronomical Observatory (AAO) and where I work, is located. The darkness of the sky in this observatory allows us to clearly see with our own eyes the Milky Way (the diffuse band of stars that crosses the sky) and many other celestial bodies such as the Magellanic Clouds, the Orion and Carina nebulae, or the Pleiades and Hyades star clusters.


Movie: Time-lapse video “The Sky over the Siding Spring Observatory”. More information about this video in this post in the blog. Credit: Ángel R. López-Sánchez (AAO/MQ).

On the other hand, after traveling during hundreds, millions, or billions of years throughout the deep space, the information codified in the light that reaches us is disrupted by the atmosphere of the Earth in the last millionth of a second of its trip. Hence professional telescopes are built on the top of the mountains, where the atmosphere is more stable than a sea level. Even though, many times this is not enough: our atmosphere distorts the light coming from space and prevents the identification of objects located very close in the sky. New techniques have been developed for compensating the effect of the atmosphere in the quality of the light we receive from the Cosmos. In particular, the adaptive optics technique induces in real time slight modifications to the shape of the primary mirror of the telescope, and therefore they counteract the distortion created by the atmosphere. In any case, astrophysicists need to direct the light received by the telescope to a detector, which transforms light energy into electric energy. This has been the purpose of the CCD (Charge-Couple Device) chips, firstly used by astronomers, and later popularized in smartphones and digital cameras. Very sophisticated optical systems are built to direct the light from the telescope to the detectors. Some of the systems created to manipulate our collection and processing of light are based on optical fibres. This new technology has created the branch of Astrophotonic. Indeed, the AAO, together with the University of Sydney and Macquarie University (Australia), are pioneers in the field of Astrophotonic. The next video shows how the light from the Cosmos is studied at the AAT. First it is collected using the primary mirror of the telescope, which has a diameter of 4 meters, and then it is sent using optical fibres to a dark room where the AAOmega spectrograph is located. This spectrograph, which is a series of special optics, separates the light into its rainbow spectrum, in a similar way a prism separates white light into a rainbow. The separated light is later focussed onto the CCD detector.


Movie: Rainbow Fingerprints, showing how the light of distant galaxies in collected by the Anglo-Australian Telescope and directed to the AAOmega spectrograph using optical fibres. More information: at the AAO webpages. Credit: Australian Astronomical Observatory (AAO), Movie produced by Amanda Bauer (AAO).

Specifically, this video shows how astrophysicists analyse the light coming from distant galaxies to understand their nature and properties. In particular, the video reveals the final science quality spectra for two different types of galaxies, one spiral (top panel) and one elliptical (bottom panel), using actual data obtained with the AAT and the AAOmega spectrograph. The information codified in the rainbow fingerprint identifies each galaxy unambiguously: distance, star formation history, chemical composition, age, physical properties as the temperature or the density of the diffuse gas, and many more. All this information has been captured within a single ray of light that has travelled hundred of millions of years to reach us. Similarly, the properties of stars (luminosity, mass, temperature, chemical composition, kinematics, …), nebulae, and any other celestial body (planets, comets, asteroids, quasars, …) are analyzed through its light. And studying tiny changes in the amount of light we receive from nearby stars we are now finding thousands of exoplanets in the Milky Way.

The “rainbow fingerprints” video shown before includes only the observations of two galaxies, but actually the AAT is able to observe around 350 objects at the same time. This is achieved using the 2dF robot, which can configure 400 optical fibres within a circular field of view with a diameter of 4 full moons. The majority of the optical fibres are allocated to observe galaxies (or stars), but some few optical fibres are used to get an accurate guiding of the telescope or to obtain important calibration data. With this technology the AAT is a survey machine, and indeed it is a pioneer of galaxy surveys. Around 1/3 of all the galaxy distances known today have been obtained using the AAT. The most recent galaxy survey completed at the AAT is the “Galaxy And Mass Assembly” (GAMA) survey, that has collected the light of more than 300 thousand galaxies located in some particular areas of the sky. The next movie shows the 3D distribution of galaxies in one of the sky areas observed by GAMA. This simulated fly through shows the real positions and images of the galaxies that have been mapped by GAMA. Distances are to scale, but the galaxy images have been enlarged for a viewing pleasure.


Movie: “Fly through of the GAMA Galaxy Catalogue”, showing a detailed map of the Universe where galaxies are in 3D. More information in the Vimeo webpage of the video. Crédito: Made by Will Parr, Dr. Mark Swinbank and Dr. Peder Norberg (Durham University) using data from the SDSS (Sloan Digital Sky Survey) and the GAMA (Galaxy And Mass Assembly) surveys.

However, to really understand what happens in the Universe, astrophysicists use not only the light that our eyes can see (the optical range) but all the other “lights” that make up the electromagnetic spectrum, from the very energetic gamma rays to the radio waves. The light codified in the radio waves is studied using radiotelescopes, many of them located in the surface of the Earth. The study of the light in radio frequencies allows us to detect the diffuse, cold gas existing in and around galaxies, the coldest regions of the interstellar medium and where the stars are formed, and energetic phenomena associated to galaxy nuclei hosting an active super-massive black hole in its centre. Many technological achievements, including the invention of the Wi-Fi, come from Radioastronomy. The study of the infrared, ultraviolet, X ray and gamma ray lights must be done using space telescopes, as the atmosphere of the Earth completely blocks these kinds of radiation. As an example, the next image shows how the nearby spiral galaxy M 101 is seen when we use all the lights of the electromagnetic spectrum. Light in X rays traces the most violent phenomena in the galaxy, which are regions associated to supernova remnants and black holes. The ultraviolet (UV) light marks where the youngest stars (those born less than 100 million years ago) are located. Optical (R band) and near-infrared (H band) lights indicate where the sun-like and the old stars are found. The emission coming from ionized hydrogen (H-alpha) reveals the star-forming regions, that is, the nebulae, in M 101. Mid-infrared (MIR) light comes from the thermal emission of the dust, which has been heated up by the young stars. Finally, the image in radio light (neutral atomic hydrogen, HI, at 21 cm) maps the diffuse, cold, gas in the galaxy.

Imagen: Mosaic showing six different views of the galaxy M 101, each one using a different wavelength. Images credit: X ray data (Chandra): NASA/CXC/JHU/K.Kuntz et al,; UV data(GALEX): Gil de Paz et al. 2007, ApJS, 173, 185; R and Hα data (KPNO): Hoopes et al. 2001, ApJ, 559, 878; Near-Infrared data (2MASS): Jarrett et al. 2003, AJ, 125, 525, 8 microns data (Spitzer): Dale et al. 2009, ApJ, 703, 517; 21cm HI data (VLA): Walter et al. 2008, AJ, 136, 2563, ”The H I Nearby Galaxy Survey”. Credit of the composition: Ángel R. López-Sánchez (AAO/MQ).

In any case, today Astrophysics does not only use observations of the light we collect from the Cosmos, but also includes a prominent theoretical framework. “Experiments” in Astrophysics are somewhat performed using computer simulations, where the laws of Physics, together with some initial conditions, are taken into account. When the computer runs, the simulated system evolves and from there general or particular trends are obtained. These predictions must be later compared with the real data obtained using telescopes. Just to name some few cases, stellar interiors, supernova explosions, and galaxy evolution are modeled through careful and sometimes expensive computer simulations. As an example, the next movie shows a cosmological simulation that follows the development of a spiral galaxy similar to the Milky Way from shortly after the Big Bang to the present time. This computer simulation, that required about 1 million CPU hours to be completed, assumes that the Universe is dominated by dark energy and dark matter. The simulation distinguishes old stars (red colour), young stars (blue colour) and the diffuse gas available to form new stars (pale blue), which is the gas we observe using radiotelescopes. This kind of cosmological simulations are later compared with observations obtained using professional telescopes to progress in our understanding of the Cosmos.

Movie: Computer simulation showing the evolution of a spiral galaxy over about 13.5 billion years, from shortly after the Big Bang to the present time. Colors indicate old stars (red), young stars (white and bright blue) and the distribution of gas density (pale blue); the view is 300,000 light-years across. The simulation ran on the Pleiades supercomputer at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., and required about 1 million CPU hours. It assumes a universe dominated by dark energy and dark matter. More information about this animation in this NASA website. Credit: F. Governato and T. Quinn (Univ. of Washington), A. Brooks (Univ. of Wisconsin, Madison), and J. Wadsley (McMaster Univ.).

In summary, thanks to the analysis of the light we know where stars, galaxies, and all the other celestial bodies are, what are they made of, how do the move, and more. Actually, much of the research that we astrophysicists do today combines observing and analyzing light coming from very different spectral ranges, X rays, ultraviolet, optical, infrared and radio waves. In many cases, we are using techniques that have been known for only few decades and that are still waiting to be fully exploited. The detailed study of the light coming from the Cosmos will provide new important astronomical discoveries in the nearby future and, at the same time, will impulse new technologies; many of them will be applied in medicine and communications. The light techniques we are developing for Astrophysics will have a direct application to our everyday life and will improve the welfare state of our society, besides deepens the understanding of the vast Universe we all live in.

New AAO video: Rainbow Fingerprints

Have you ever wondered how telescopes collect the light of the stars to be later analyzed by the astronomers? This new AAO video, entitled Rainbow Fingerprints shows how this is done at the Anglo-Australian Telescope (AAT). The video was produced by AAO Astronomer and Outreach Officer Amanda Bauer, and I have collaborated providing not only the sequences of the AAT outside and inside the dome (which were extracted from my timelapse A 2dF night at the AAT) but also providing comments during the production process.

Video “Rainbow Fingerprints” showing how the light of distant galaxies in collected by the Anglo-Australian Telescope and directed to the AAOmega spectrograph using optical fibres. More information in the AAO webpage Rainbow Fingerprints. Credit: AAO, movie produced by Amanda Bauer (AAO).

The light coming from distant galaxies is first collected using the primary mirror of the telescope, which has a diameter of 4 meters, and then it is sent using optical fibres (the 2dF system) to a dark room where the AAOmega spectrograph is located. This spectrograph, which is a series of special optics, separates the light into its rainbow spectrum, in a similar way a prism separates white light into a rainbow. The separated light is later focussed onto the CCD detector. Finally the video reveals the science quality spectra for two different types of galaxies, one spiral (top panel) and one elliptical (bottom panel), using actual data obtained with the AAT and the AAOmega spectrograph. The information codified in the rainbow fingerprint identifies each galaxy unambiguously: distance, star formation history, chemical composition, age, physical properties as the temperature or the density of the diffuse gas, and many more.

I hope you enjoy it!

A 2dF night at the Anglo-Australian Telescope

One of the most complex astronomical instruments nowadays available is the Two Degree Field (2dF) system at the Anglo-Australian Telescope (AAT, Siding Spring Observatory, NSW, Australia). The main part of 2dF is a robot gantry which allows to position up to 400 optical fibers in any object anywhere within a “two degree field” of the sky.

The 2dF instrument attached to the primary focus of the AAT. Note that the mirror of the telescope is opened. This image was chosen to be part of the Stories from Siding Spring Observatory Photo Exhibition the AAO organized last year.
Credit: Á.R.L-S.

392 optical fibers are fed to the AAOmega spectrograph, which allows to obtain the full optical spectrum of every object targeted by an optical fiber. The remaining 8 optical fibers are actually fibre-bundles and are used to get an accurate tracking of the telescope while astronomers are observing that field, which may last up to 3 hours. 2dF possesses two field plates: one located at the primary focus of the telescope and another at the position of the robot gantry. While a field is being observed in one plate, 2dF configures the next field on the other plate. A tumbling mechanism is used to exchange the plates. 2dF was designed at the AAO in the late 90s and, since then, it has been used by a large number of international astrophysicists. In a clear night, 2dF can obtain high-quality optical spectroscopic data of more than 2,800 objects.

Indeed, this sophisticated instrument has conducted observations for hundreds of astronomical projects, including galaxy surveys such as the 2dF Galaxy Redshift Survey, the WiggleZ Dark Energy Survey, and the Galaxy And Mass Assembly (GAMA), survey which is still on going and in which I actively participate. The optical fibers of 2dF can be also fed the new HERMES spectrograph, which is now starting the ambitious Galactic Archaeology with HERMES (GALAH) survey at the AAT. GALAH aims to observe around 1 million galactic stars to measure elemental abundances and measure stellar kinematics.

Frame of the time-lapse video “A 2dF night at the Anglo-Australian Telescope”. The 2dF robot gantry moving and positioning the optical fibers. Credit: Á.R.L-S.

How does 2dF move and position the optical fibers? A very nice way of explain it is using the time-lapse technique, that is, taking many images and then adding all to get a movie of the robot while moving and positioning the fibers. That is why in 2012 I decided to create the video, A 2dF night at the AAT, which assembles 14 time-lapse sequences taken at the AAT during September and November 2011 while I was working at the AAT as support astronomer of the 2dF instrument. Actually, this time-lapse video shows not only how 2dF works but also how the AAT and the dome move and the beauty of the Southern Sky in spring and summer. The time-lapse lasts for 2.9 minutes and combines more than 4000 frames obtained using a CANON EOS 600D provided with a 10-20mm wide-angle lens.

Time-lapse video “A 2dF night at the AAT”. I recommend to follow the link to YouTube and watch it at HD and full screen in a dark room. Credit: Á.R.L-S.

The video consists in three kinds of sequences created at 24 frames per second (fps). The first 3 sequences show how the 2dF robot gantry moves the optical fibers over a plate located at the primary focus of the telescope. Although in real life 2dF needs around 40-45 minutes to configure a full field with 400 fibers, the time-lapse technique allows to speed this process. The first 2 sequences have been assembled taking 1 exposure per second, therefore 1 second of the video corresponds to 24 seconds in real life. The third sequence considers an exposure each 3 seconds, and hence it shows the robot moving very quickly. The next four sequences show the movement of the telescope and the dome. All of them were obtained taking 2 images per second (a second in the movie corresponds to 12 seconds in real life). The long black tube located at the primary focus of the telescope is 2dF. The remaining sequences, all obtained during the night, were created taking exposures of 30 seconds, and hence each second in the video corresponds to 12 minutes in real life.

Frame of the time-lapse video “A 2dF night at the Anglo-Australian Telescope”. The AAT telescope, with 2dF (the long, black tube) attached at its primary focus, is prepared to start observing. Credit: Á.R.L-S.

Astronomical time-lapse videos allow to see the movement of the Moon, planets and stars in a particular position in the Earth, something that conventional videos cannot achieve. In particular, dim stars and faint sky features, such as the Milky Way with its bright and dark clouds and the Magellanic Clouds, can be now easily recorded. As in my first time-lapse video, The Sky over the AAT, I set the camera up at the beginning of the night, let it run, and check on its progress occasionally. I used at focal of f5.6 and an ISO speed of 1600 ISO for the night sequences.

Frame of the time-lapse video “A 2dF night at the Anglo-Australian Telescope”. The Magellanic Cloud rise while the Milky Way sets over the Anglo-Australian Telescope at Siding Spring Observatory on 3 Nov 2011. Some kangaroos can be seen in the ground. Credit: Á.R.L-S.

However, the procedure that took more time was processing the hundreds of individual photographies included in each sequence. In many cases, I needed more than 12 hours of computer time, including 3 or 4 iterations per sequence, to get a good combination of low noise and details of the sky, plus “cleaning” bad pixels or cosmic rays. In particular, for this video I tried hard to show the colours of the stars, a detail which is usually lost when increasing the contrast to reveal the faintest stars. In the last sequence of the video, Aldebaran and Betelgeuse appear clearly red, while the stars in the Pleiades and Rigel have a blue color.

Frame of the time-lapse video “A 2dF night at the Anglo-Australian Telescope”. A dark night at The Anglo-Australian Telescope (23 Sep 2011). Orion constellation is seen over the AAT dome. The red colour of Alderaban and Betelgeuse and blue colours of Pleiades and Rigel are clearly distinguished. Credit: Á.R.L-S.

As I did for my previous time-lapse, here I also included a sequence which shows the trails created by the stars as they move in the sky as a consequence of the rotation of the Earth. This sequence shows the Celestial Equator and stars at the South (top) and North (bottom) Celestial Hemisphere. Note that star trails have indeed many different colours. Other details that appear in this time-lapse video are clouds moving over the AAT, satellites and airplanes crossing the sky, the nebular emission of the Orion and Carina nebulae, the moonlight entering in the AAT dome, and kangaroos “jumping” in the ground.

Frame of the time-lapse video “A 2dF night at the Anglo-Australian Telescope”. Startrails over the Anglo-Australian Telescope on 23 Sep 2011. The colours of the stars are clearly seen in this image, which stacks 1h 6min of observing time. Credit: Á.R.L-S.

Finally, I chose an energetic soundtrack which moves with both 2dF and the sky. It is the theme Blue Raider of the group Epic Soul Factory, by the composer Cesc Villà. Actually, all sequences were created to fit the changes in the music, something that also gave me some headaches. But I think the result was worth all the effort.

Stories from Siding Spring Observatory

Tonight we’re opening the photo exhibition Stories from Siding Spring Observatory at Sydney Observatory.

Baner of the Photo Exhibition Stories from Siding Spring Observatory opening tonight at Sydney Observatory. The Exhibition will be opened to the public between 18 April 2013 and 13 August 2013. As the general visit to Sydney Observatory, it is free.
Credit: Á.R.L-S.

This photo exhibition compiles 25 photos plus four time-lapse videos taken at the Siding Spring Observatory by staff of the Australian Astronomical Observatory. I have actively participated in the organization of this photo exhibition, not only providing some photos (see below) but also the 4 time-lapse videos, one of them specifically prepared for this.

The idea of organizing the photo exhibition came after the terrible bushfires that destroyed the Warrumbungle National Park and seriously affected Siding Spring Observatory on 13th January 2013. Luckily any telescope experienced any damage and we were back at the telescopes just 1 month after the bushfires. However, some houses and facilities, including the ANU Lodge, were destroyed in the bushfires. The vegetation at the site was also seriously affected, and indeed the views from there are not now as beautiful as they were before.

As the brochure of the Exhibition quotes,

Siding Spring Observatory sits on a mountaintop in the Warrumbungle Range, 400 km northwest of Sydney and 25 km west of the town of Coonabarabran. Run by the Australian National University, it is Australia’s most important site for optical astronomy.

On 13 January 2013 a bushfire swept through the observatory. Despite damage to some buildings, the telescopes were unharmed and are now back at work.

The photos in this exhibition tell stories of life and work on the mountain. They were taken by staff of the Australian Astronomical Observatory (AAO), which operates two telescopes there: the 4-m Anglo-Australian Telescope (AAT) and the UK Schmidt telescope.

Yesterday evening some of us were there installing the Exhibition and hanging frames and labels from the walls of the Sydney Observatory:

Working hard to get all frames and labels done on time!
Credit: Á.R.L-S.

Jamie Gilbert (AAO) carefully hanging label to my photo “Day and Night”.
Credit: Á.R.L-S.

The photos I’m providing for the Exhibition are these:

The 3.9m Anglo-Australian Telescope (AAT).
Credit: Á.R.L-S.

The 2dF instrument attached to the primary focus of the AAT.
Note that the mirror of the telescope is opened.
Credit: Á.R.L-S.

Day and Night at the AAT.
Credit: Á.R.L-S.

Circumpolar stars over the AAT on a dark winter night.
Credit: Á.R.L-S.

Double Rainbow at the sunrise over the Warrumbungle National Park. Photos taken from the catwalk of the AAT by Amanda Bauer (AAO) and processed and stitched by me.
Credit: Amanda Bauer & Ángel R. López-Sánchez.

but you can find many more photos I took at Siding Spring Observatory during the last years in this album of my Flickr.

However I have to confess that, as Amanda Bauer says in her blog, the best of the photos we have chosen is this spectacular panorama of the Milky Way over the AAT obtained by Jamie Gilbert (AAO):

Panorama of the Milky Way over the Anglo-Australian Telescope (AAT) using a CANON 5D Mark III. More information about this image: here.
Credit: Jamie Gilbert (AAO)

and that is why this photo is the largest one!

Jamie Gilbert and the frame with his panorama “The Milky Way over the AAT” during the installation of the photos of the “Stories from Siding Spring Observatory” Exhibition at Sydney Observatory on the evening of 16 April 2013
Credit: Á.R.L-S.

The Photo Exhibition Stories from Siding Spring Observatory is open to the public between 18 April 2013 and 13 August 2013. As the general visit to Sydney Observatory, it is free, so do not miss it if you have a chance!