Posted by: mattburleigh | July 24, 2012

A Squiffy Telescope

This week I am at the observatory on the Canary island of la Palma, helping to commission a new telescope. The telescope has a main mirror 1m across – that’s small compared to most of the telescopes professionals use, but much bigger than most amateurs have. It’s perfect for the job we want it to do, and more importantly we could afford it (“we” means a consortium of various universities clubbing together. My university, Leicester, kindly gave us a substantial contribution from one of the last government’s infrastructure funds, which sadly don’t exist any more). We’ve christened the telescope the “SuperWasp-Qatar Follow-up Telescope” or SQFT, which in my warped mind reads “Squiffy-T”. Its job will be to take light curves of candidate transiting extra-solar planets discovered by the SuperWasp and Qatar surveys, so we can confirm which are real, and study them in further detail. Our goal is to make it fully robotic, but this week we have been installing the CCD cameras, testing software and cleaning lots of dust that has accumulated on every surface. Here’s the telescope, looking a bit like a doomsday machine from a sub-James Bond movie:

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I’m here with Don Pollacco, shortly of Warwick University, and his ex-PhD student James McCormac who now works for the Isaac Newton Group of telescopes on la Palma. Here’s James struggling to tighten a crucial bolt on the main camera we’ve just mounted at the Cassegrain focus:

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It’s now two years since we built the platform and the dome – various reasons for that, not least people’s time….. but it’s great to make good progress and see the project coming to fruition. Hopefully we may get on sky later this week and I’ll be in the dome running it. No comfy control room! Fortunately it shouldn’t be too cold. As with the rest of the northern hemisphere, la Palma is having freak weather. It’s 30 degrees during the day up here at over 8000 feet. Huge clouds of dust from the nearby Sahara are sitting over the island trapping the heat. The local astronomers say the heat is very unusual. Anyway, here’s the view of sunset through the “calima” (dust) from the Squiffy-T platform:

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That’s the William Herschel Telescope in the background. For those who know the observatory on la Palma, SQFT is located by the side of the road up to the JKT and the solar observatory, opposite SuperWasp and just after the Nitrogen plant building.

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