Archive for Science

All over!

LCROSS successfully impacted the moon at 4.31am (MST)!! NASA will be having a news conference at 7.00am (PDT) on NASA TV.

We collected data with multiple instruments throughout the impact and for an hour after it. We now have a multitude of data which needs careful reduction over the coming weeks until we will have the opportunity to make any statements on what we saw.

We could not have asked for a better night – the weather was near perfect, the telescope worked beautifully tracking on the moon and all the instruments behaved impeccably.

Many thanks to everyone who was involved in bringing tonight together, to everyone who was onsite at the telescope to make it such a successful nights observing, to NASA for extremely clear communication through the night and to everyone who has been following us on the blog & the webcams.

Now its time for one last sip of champagne then off to bed before the sun truly rises!

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T-30 mins!

The last blog before impact (and probably for a while after the impact as I’ll be busy reducing the data we observe!)

Everything here is good – sky is clear with 0.5″ seeing! Could not have asked for a better night. We have moved back to the moon and setting up for the final time before impact.

A quick list of people you might have been watching on the webcam!

Faith Vilas (MMT Director)
Shawn Callahan
Mike Algeria
Phil Hinz
John DiMiceli
Tom Trebisky
Vidhya Vaitheeswaran
Dallan Porter
Vanessa Bailey
Duane Gibson
Bryan Cardwell
Morag Hastie

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Countdown continues …

At 1.31am (MST) NASA will count down to T-3 hours mark for the centaur impact. We are busily working away making sure we have all our cameras aligned (we are using 4 different camera’s for different purposes tonight!), we are collecting calibration data that is vital for our science results, making sure our data reduction software works and staying in communication with NASA and all the other telescopes that are observing the event.

On the LCROSS viewer we have a bunch of camera images for you to look at – starting at the top of the right hand column we have:

– The All Sky Camera, which is located outside the telescope and shows us the full sky. The red + sign shows exactly where the telescope is pointing.

– The next one is the view form a wide angle telescope which is bolted on to the side of our main large telescope. Here you should be able to see a more zoomed out image of the moon.

– The third is the image from a small field of view acquisition camera which looks through the main 6.5 meter telescope. It shows a very zoomed in image of the moon so might not look as you expect.

Along the bottom we show 4 webcams that are placed around the observatory; firstly the front of the chamber (dome) (you can see the shutters open with so much illumination from the moon), two cameras at the back of chamber and one in the control room. The control room webcam has the most activity! We have a large crew up here tonight to make sure we get the best possible observations we can for this one time opportunity.

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LCROSS: It all comes down to tonight …

After being involved in the LCROSS project and preparation for the ground based observations from the MMT over the last 18 months it has all come down to tonight. We have one shot at getting these observations so the nerves are running a little high in the control room!

In the last 10 minutes we have had confirmation from NASA that the centaur and payload (ie. the two halves of the rocket – the centaur will crash into the moon first with the payload carrying the instruments crashing in 4 minutes later) have separated successfully.

The weather has completely cleared up and is beautiful. Now we have around 7 hours to do final checks of the instruments we are using to observe the impact, and take all the calibration data that we need.

Please remember to come look at us work and see what we can see! NASA is also streaming live here.

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Watching LCROSS impact!

Want to see professional astronomers at work? We are taking the unique time of the LCROSS experiment to give you all a direct view into the world of a professional observatory for one night only!

We will be streaming images throughout the night which you can view at:

http://www.mmto.org/lcross

Not only are we streaming images from inside the telescope chamber and control room from webcams we will be streaming images direct from two science camera that are trained on the moon throughout the night from which you may be able to see the actual impact.

This has been a big project for us and many other ground based telescopes around the world as well as the extensive NASA team that are running the actual project. It has been an exercise in communication and organization bringing all the parties together. Tonight (Weds) we are all hoping to some final checks and preparation – however here at the MMT we are stuck under heavy fog. The weather forecast for tomorrow is slightly better than tonight but we are still a little worried the weather is not going co-operate. We have all our fingers crossed for it to clear in time for us to capture the impact.

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MMTO Confirms Ultra-faint Object in Milky Way Halo is Dwarf Galaxy.

How small can a galaxy be?

Astronomers are now finding small-fry galaxies that contain fewer than a million, possibly as few as a thousand, stars.

Until recently, these very faint, dwarf galaxies in the halo of the Milky Way have eluded discovery.  

Read about this exciting new result by a team including Ed Olszewski, Jill Bechtold & Tim Pickering at UA News.org.

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Preparing for NASA’s LCROSS mission

During Monday’s (3/2/9) engineering night Shawn Callahan, Morag Hastie, Tim Pickering, Phil Hinz, and Ale Milone tested the f/15 AO system capabilities to develop procedures to image lunar impact craters for the upcoming NASA LCROSS mission. To learn more about this interesting NASA mission go to: http://lcross.arc.nasa.gov/

On this mostly clear evening, the moon’s illumination was less than 50% causing polar LCROSS impact craters to be unlit. We used JPL’s HORIZONS software and scripts from Tom Trebisky to generate ephemerides for the moon. As soon as we began non-sidereal tracking the center of the moon we offset to the cusp at the northern intersection of the bright limb with the terminator. This region of the moon has several mountains and crater walls in the dark limb tall enough to catch the first rays of sunrise.

The AO system was able to lock onto one glowing oblong shaped mountain top. We were all treated to see amazing lunar images free of most atmospheric distortions while looking through 2.7 airmass (22 degrees elevation angle). This was a first for the MMT!

We tried locking onto various other moonscapes with less contrast but were unsuccessful before the rapidly setting moon prevented further observations. Regrettably our efforts did not leave enough time to capture these beautiful images of the moon with the AO system locked. (Next time!) Further testing is required to determine if we can lock the AO system on the candidate craters.

The LCROSS craters shall be illuminated during our next engineering run in early April. During this run we plan to use the f/9 and/or f/5 telescope configuration to test and verify our procedures for locating and tracking each candidate impact site.

The LCROSS mission is scheduled to impact August 28th at 4:39 UTC (21:39 MST). On this evening, sunset at the MMT is 18:52, and the moon sets at 00:27. The moon shall be at an elevation angle of 42 degrees (1.5 airmass) during impact.

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