Monday, April 07, 2008

The Fabulous IAC80

The IAC80 Telescope at the Tenerife Observatory, Teide is rather fabulous, in comparison to the older Mons telescope. The IAC80 has an 80cm reflector, so can see deeper into the sky.

Our students are using the telescope for their research projects which include looking at the Rosetta, bowtie and Eagle Nebulae, planets, globular and open clusters and spiral galaxies.

The challenge for the students tonight is to ensure that they all have observing time - as the eight students all want to observe different, er, things ('objects┬┤ is the correct astronomical term). Each of the objects the students want to observe will be rising and falling in the sky at different times so they are having to plan who does what, when. It is a race against time.

The telescope has an enormous CCD camera attached to it which is cooled
to minus 100 degrees to prevent it overheating. The camera which takes the photos/data has thousands of pixels which aren't 100% reliable. In order to prevent astronomers thinking that they are looking at a star - when they are just looking at a burnt out pixel, the astronomers have to take 'darks' - basically photos with the lens cap on - to use as a reference.

To make things more complicated the astronomers use filters on their telescopes to ensure that they get a clear picture of the object they are focused on, or rather different types of information such as star formation regions and star type. Each student will want a different filter - or rather sets of filters - to ensure that they get the data that they want. Each filter has to be tested individually by producing 'dome flats' - that's images of the dome through the filter - again as a reference point to check the reliability of the filters, mirrors and lenses in the telescope. The exposure times for these flats are going to be between ten seconds and ten minutes each.

It's my last night tonight and I'm going to watch the students observing throughout the night.


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