Monday, November 25, 2013

LUCI2 and Pathfinder see the sky for the first time!


A few weeks after LUCI2 met LUCI1 on the telescope and quite a few closed-dome (I should write enclosure) tests, it was time for the second of our near infrared imagers and spectrographs to see first light. Six days of commissioning and a reasonable weather made for a very successful run.

Luci2 on its derotator at the front bent focus of the right side of LBT.

LUCI1 (left) and LUCI2 (right) are seen on the instrument platform behind LBTI 

If LUCI2 is mostly a twin of LUCI1, it comes with a brand new software which was checked, improved and optimized in real observing conditions. The usual commissioning observations to characterize the instrument on sky (astrometric and photometric tests in imaging mode, spectrophotometric zero-point determination for grating 200H+K, ...) were carried successfully. As the new software can handle both LUCI2 and LUCI1, an imaging script in binocular mode was sent and correctly executed. All on-sky tasks foreseen for this run have been successfully performed and the basic functionality and performance of the instrument could be demonstrated.

Two more runs scheduled in December and January should conclude the first phase of the LUCI2 commissioning in seeing-limited mode. 


Pathfinder is an effort to bring a substantial portion of the LINC-NIRVANA instrument to the telescope in advance. Specifically, one Ground-Layer Wavefront Sensor (GWS) and its associated drive electronics and software are implemented at the right, rear, bent focus of the LBT. The main goal is to demonstrate ground layer correction of turbulence, as well as establish the needed infrastructure for telescope and adaptive secondary communications. It will also allow the team to perfect the techniques of star acquisition and tracking. 

Working on the instrument at the rear bent focus of the right side of the LBT. The middle focus station is LBTI and the front is LUCI2 (on the right of the picture). 

Three nights following the LUCI2 commissioning run were scheduled for Pathfinder and LBT engineering. Weather has been unfortunately poor, but Pathfinder was lucky enough to have a couple of openings in the clouds sufficient to catch a couple of bright stars! In spite of a 2.3" seeing, loop was closed with 50 Zernike modes on Epsilon Auriga

There is still a long way to go - this was, after all, only a single star on axis. It is however an important step for the whole team, which left Mt Graham very tired, but happy! In coming campaigns, Pathfinder will be operated with multiple stars in ground-layer adaptive optics mode.

More images on the Pathfinder run here.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

ARGOS first laser propagation!

ARGOS (Advanced Rayleigh guided Ground layer adaptive Optics System) will eventually bring Ground Layer Adaptive Optics (GLAO) capabilities to LBT.  ARGOS is dedicated to observations with LUCI1 and LUCI2, LBTO's pair of near-IR imagers and multi-object spectrographs.

ARGOS is projecting three beams per LBT's eye, creating a constellation of three artificial stars on a circle of 2' in radius. This constellation will allow a significant improvement of the image quality over the 4' field of view of the LUCIs. Each of the six Nd:YAG lasers sends a beam of green (532nm) pulses at a rate of 10kHz with a power of 14W to 18W. Three beams are launched to the sky on-axis from a mirror on the back of each of the two LBT secondary mirrors.

On the night of Nov5, 2013, the lasers were propagated on the sky for the first time. 

 The beams with the Pleiades and the Hyades 
(photo courtesy of  Julian Ziegleder) 

The beams seen from inside the enclosure under the right side shutter door
(photo courtesy of  Julian Ziegleder)  

 The beams seen from the back of the enclosure (with the left back door half open)
(photo courtesy of Kai Polsterer)

The picture above shows the first acquisition of the six beams (three per LBT main mirror) on the detector of the Mount Alignment Telescope System. For the rest of this first night and during the next three, precise alignment of the beams will be performed and checked with the elevation of the telescope down to 45 degrees, the limit under which no propagation is allowed. Focus range and brightness of the beams will be estimated and all the internal cameras of the ARGOS system will be checked out...

There is still much work left to bring ARGOS to an operational state, but tonight marks a very important step in the whole commissioning process. Following completion of this initial run on Saturday morning, the  next on-sky work is expected to continue in early spring 2014 for first light on the laser guide stars wavefront sensors...

Congratulations go to the ARGOS team for the amazing amount of work done since the Preliminary Design Review back in February 2009, and to LBTO staff for their support of ARGOS since the first hardware showed up at the telescope three years ago. Coordination with FAA and Space Command went very smoothly and the help of Safford Discovery Park docents turned plane spotters is much appreciated for these first four nights of on-sky laser propagation.

More information on the ARGOS project is available on its website here

Thursday, October 10, 2013

MODS2 structure on Mt Graham!

After its acceptance in the lab at Ohio State University in August, MODS2, the second in the pair of Multi-Object Double-beam Spectrographs designed and built by OSU, was disassembled and prepared for shipment to Mt Graham.

The structure of the instrument is the first (and biggest!) piece of the instrument to make its journey to the observatory. 

 Oct 1 - Loading the structure on the truck at OSU

 On the truck, with a happy MODS team!

Oct 7 - Arrival at the base camp

Ready to go up to Mt Graham

 Oct 10 - In the high bay at the observatory

The crating of all the contents of MODS began immediately after the structure left. The truck will come on Oct 16 to collect the crates and carry them to Arizona.

Monday, October 7, 2013

LUCI2 meets LUCI1 on the telescope

LUCI2 spent its first days on the telescope close to LUCI1 for a week of tests.

After its arrival on the mountain in mid-July, LUCI2 was reassembled and went through a long series of tests over the summer to confirm that it was still functioning well after its long journey from Heidelberg (Germany).

For its first week on the telescope (Sep 22-29), LUCI2 was kept warm.
The cable wrap was fully equipped with all lines/pipes. All connections to LUCI2 have been established and all instrument/detector functions were tested at the telescope. 
The two MOS Auxiliary Cryostats were aligned to the LUCI2 cryostat. Mask cabinets were successfully transferred between both auxiliary cryostats and LUCI-2 in the warm.

Both LUCIs on the telescope

In case you wonder where the LUCIs are...

LUCI2 is currently back in the lab. It has been cooled down and will go through a few additional tests before going back on the telescope on October 20 for more day-time tests, with the instrument cold this time. Its first on-sky commissioning run is scheduled to start on November 9.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

On to a new semester!

The night of September 24 was the first night of LBTO's 2013B observing semester.

After an intense shutdown which ended at the end of August, LBTO staff has been very busy checking out many telescope subsystems and instruments, which went through maintenance or upgrades, as well as the adaptive secondaries (especially AdSec-DX).

Thanks to a generous engineering time allocation devoted to these efforts, much was accomplished with a decent end of monsoon weather (much better than in 2011 and 202!) A good thing, as there was much to do this year before being able to go back to science!

The first night of 13B was a good night science wise with minimum glitches. A relief after the few problems encountered on instruments at the last minute, which brought some interesting moments (!) to those involved. The LBCs, LUCI1 and AO on both sides are operational. MODS1 has an issue on its red channel (likely a controller problem), which is being addressed by LBTO and the OSU team. Hopefully, MODS1 will be back soon.

The current version of the 2013B telescope schedule is available here

We will use this blog to give news on the status of the observatory as soon as things happen. The last posts show up on the LBTO web page.

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Saturday, August 17, 2013

MODS2 passes its preliminary acceptance tests at OSU

MODS2 is the second of a pair of Multi-Object Double-beam Spectrographs designed and built for LBTO by the Department of Astronomy at Ohio State University. 

MODS1, the first of the pair, has been offered to the LBTO users for regular observing since the last quarter of 2011.
MODS1 at LBT's left direct gregorian focus 

On the second week of August 2013, forty months after MODS1, it was the turn of MODS2 to go through its laboratory acceptance tests, which it passed with flying colors! The instrument was cleared for shipping to the observatory on Mt Graham. MODS2 is expected to be on the mountain by mid-October 2013.

Rick Pogge, current MODS PI, in a show and tell in front of MODS2

Rick at the MODS2 control laptop with LBTO reviewers Olga Kuhn and Mark Wagner

Daniel Pappalardo (OSU) doing some explaining for Mark Wagner and Joar Brynnel (LBTO)

MODS2 is a near-perfect twin of MODS1, something which should make for a smooth integration at the telescope. The few changes made on MODS2 are actually improvements which will eventually be retrofitted to MODS1.

The lab acceptance of MODS2 is for LBTO a very important step, as it marks the completion of the construction phase of the first generation of facility instruments. LUCI2 was partially accepted in Europe in early June (only one of the cameras, still missing, will be completed in early 2014) and is now at the observatory.

The coming semesters will be very intense commissioning-wise and it is too early to give a tentative date for final acceptance on the sky of either LUCI2 or MODS2. More news on this when time comes! 

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Summer shutdown: SX primary recoating... and much more!

Monsoon season is summer shutdown time for the observatory. Don't think that not looking at the sky means nothing much happening under the LBT enclosure on Mt Graham! Much work is going on to clean, repair, maintain, or upgrade many of the components of the observatory.

Every year, one of the two 8.4m primary mirrors gets a facelift, I mean a fresh aluminum coating. This year, it is SX (the left mirror's) turn. On most telescopes, the mirror would be removed from the telescope and carried to a near-by lab to be cleaned and re-aluminized in a vacuum chamber. At LBT, the mirror stays on the telescope. The old coating is removed and the mirror washed while in its cell. The vacuum chamber, actually half of it (the bell jar) comes to the mirror and mates to its cell to form the vacuum chamber. 

The bell jar waiting in the high bay to be lifted to the telescope floor

The bell jar on the SX primary mirror

Once the aluminizing is done, the bell jar goes back to its storage place on the first floor of the observatory. The mirror got a new shiny coating without leaving the telescope... The whole process went very smoothly. Kudos to all involved!

The three SX bent gregorian focal stations  (from left, Linc-Nirvana, LBTI, and LUCI1) (top), 
and their reflection in the freshly recoated SX primary (bottom)

Done with realuminizing the SX primary mirror (on the right on this picture)

Here are some of the many activities are going on for this 2013 shutdown:
- Replacement of the hoses bringing glycol to the many chillers cooling mirrors, instruments, and their electronic cabinets. Not an easy task, as these hoses are going through the telescope azimuth cable wrap!
- Servicing the LBC's (Large Binocular Cameras)
- Adding or replacing sensors and valves in the ICS (Instrument Cooling System)
- Removing the tertiary mirrors, sending them out for recoating... and installing them back!
- Building a new stand for the 4D interferometer for the recalibration of the AdSec-DX at the end of the month...

Working on the filter wheel of LBCB

Plumbing work in progress on the instrument cooling system

Installing the 4D interferometer stand for AdSec-DX recalibration

Saturday, July 13, 2013

LUCI-2 is on Mt Graham

Thanks to the good work of MGIO and LBTO staff, LUCI-2 is on the mountain. 

The boxes are stored in the high bay area, some close to the clean room and others in front of where the aluminizing bell jar usually stands. The bell jar has been moved close to the enclosure pier as we will need to crane it up to the telescope floor for re-aluminizing  the SX (left) primary mirror on the week of July 22.

The LUCI team will start unpacking and reassembling the instrument in the clean room this weekend.

Looking at the high bay from the top of the enclosure pier. Part of the bell jar (orange structure) can be seen on the left. Some of the LUCI-2 boxes are on the floor in front of the lab (white wall). The rest is in the back (see close-up below) where the bell jar carriage usually sits.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

LUCI-2 arrived at the base camp

This is the first post on a new blog intended to provide information about what is happening at the Large Binocular Telescope. LBT users will find news on instrumentation, new observing capabilities, telescope scheduling... The astronomical community at large and everyone interested in the LBT will be able to follow the progress of the observatory as it moves on the road to full operation, a road which can be bumpy at times, as you can see on the blog dedicated to the recovery of one of the Adaptive Secondary mirrors.

After successfully passing its partial preliminary acceptance in Heidelberg in early June, LUCI-2 landed at LAX on July 3rd. Its many boxes made it through customs at a good pace after Independence Day.

LUCI-2 is now at the MGIO base camp in Safford, where it will spend the night in the MGIO shop before reaching the observatory on Mt Graham later in the week.

LUCI-2 is the second of the near-infrared imagers and multi-object spectrographs developed by a consortium of German institutes for LBT. It is mostly a twin of LUCI-1, which has been available to the LBT users since April 2010 (more info on LUCI-1 here).

LUCI-2 will be reassembled and tested over the summer in the observatory lab before being mounted on the telescope and commissioned over the fall and winter. LUCI-2, as delivered today, will only provide seeing limited imaging and spectroscopy. Diffraction limited observations using the excellent adaptive optics capabilities of LBT will come once a specially designed camera is delivered and fully commissioned, a process which should be completed by mid-2014.

LUCI-2 at MPIA (Heidelberg, Germany) during acceptance tests

LUCI-2 (mostly) empty structure

Packing the MOS unit

On the truck at MPIA...
... and on another truck at the MGIO base camp in Safford
LUCI-2 boxes in the MGIO shop for the night