UCOAC Meeting 46

University of California Observatories Advisory Committee
Forty-sixth Meeting
6 April, 2007, 9:00 am-5:00 pm
UC Santa Cruz

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The UCO Advisory Committee met at UC Irvine on Friday, April 6, 2007. Attending were: Mike Bolte (Director), Tommaso Treu (UCSB), Geoff Marcy (UCB), Gary Chanan (UCI), Jerry Nelson (UCSC), Claire Max (UCSC), Alex Filippenko (UCB; Chair), Dave Tytler (UCSD), Ian McLean (UCLA), Michael Rich (UCLA), Lori Lubin (UCD), Gaby Canalizo (UCR), and Aaron Barth (UCI; guest). Raja Guhathakurta (UCSC), Burt Jones (UCSC), and Rem Stone (Mt. Hamilton) attended by video. These notes are provided by Ian McLean (with some editing by Alex Filippenko and Mike Bolte).

1. Welcome and Introductions by Alex Filippenko
Alex welcomed everyone, especially the new members (Lori Lubin and Gaby Canalizo). We now have representation from every campus (except the new UC Merced) in the UC system.

2. Presentation by Mike Bolte
Mike also welcomed everyone and began by saying that he had just heard that a prospective donor had named Lick Observatory in his will for a substantial amount of money. UCO now has a Master Schedule for the Lick Shops which gives a much better handle on who is doing what and how many people are committed to each project. On the UCO web pages, in the future there will be a UCOAC members-only section containing presentations from the UCOAC meetings.

2.1. Lick Observatory (Mt. Hamilton)
Mike thanked Burt Jones for his work in handling upgrades on Mt. Hamilton, with support from Tony Misch and Graeme Smith. Among the new projects proposed are as follows:

1) Hamilton spectrograph motors/CCD + controller/remote control: ~$25K in hardware and 2000 hours of shop labor (~$160,000). Resources have been committed, so this will really happen, soon.

2) Kast spectrograph motors/CCDs/CCD controller: needs its “100Kspectrum tune-up,” which will include cleaning the optics. (Alex reported that his students have conducted a study of Kast efficiency, showing that it is now significantly lower than 10 years ago.) The entire spectrograph will be dismantled and serviced. Planned down time is 1 or 2 weeks, and it might occur in summer 2007. Graeme Smith is leading this work, and it is very important.

3) Villages: now designed and built in the Lick Adaptive Optics center (LAO). This is an open and closed loop MEMS-based AO system. First light will be on the Lick 1-m Nickel telescope in summer 2007. Funded by ~$200K from NSF, ~$100K from a private donor, and some in-house funds. The MEMS-based AO demonstration is a pathfinder for the next-generation AO system at Keck and for the TMT.

4) Nickel telescope remote observing: A few observers have already observed remotely from the LBNL Keck remote-operations room. However, Bob Kibrick (UCSC) is developing a system that will be used in Campbell Hall (Astronomy Department, UCB). Similar systems will subsequently be made available at other UC campuses upon request.

5) Possibly restore the old Clark 12-inch refractor to the Nickel dome, to make that end of Mt. Hamilton a “visitors” area and upgrade our public outreach efforts. The Nickel telescope would move to the Astrograph dome, to place it closer to the 3-m Shane telescope, APF, and KAIT. However, this project is dependent on private donor funding.

6) There are possible problems looming with the 50-year-old Shane telescope dome truck axel. It was checked by ultrasound, and some bogies have been identified that are close to breaking

Instrument usage:
1) Kast spectrograph dominates at almost 100 nights per year – highest priority for a tune-up and general maintenance.

2) Hamilton spectrograph is increasing in usage and is now at ~50 nights.

3) AO is lower than expected, possibly due to problems with IRCAL. Previously, the Infrared Working Group (IRWG) had said that it should be upgraded.

4) Gemini is up to 10 per night and perhaps more – it needs to be fixed!

Other efforts on Mt. Hamilton:
1) TV guiders: cooling may allow us to go deeper by 2 mag.

2) The background gradient in the TV guiders is annoying. Mike says it can be taken out in software.

3) David complained about Kast grating move failures; Burt will look into this. It will likely be fixed as part of the “tune-up."

4) Alex asked about the old guider’s feature of “learning” what the best track rate is; we need this feature in the new guider. Mike and Burt agreed.

5) The 3-m pointing is still occasionally erratic; tests are coming up soon.

6) Undergraduate student observing rules are being developed.

Additional discussion:
1) Mike Rich asked whether the Kast spectrograph throughput could be improved with a VPH grating. This might not work, but it will be considered. In fact, a component-by-component analysis of the Kast throughput would be very worthwhile. Measurements of standard stars should be made through a wide (10”) slit both before and after the planned tune-up of the Kast spectrograph.

The planned overhaul of the Kast spectrograph might include a new CCD for the red side, from LBNL. This would be a thick, high-resistivity CCD with very high quantum efficiency in the near-infrared, and essentially no fringing. Kast users would greatly benefit by having such a CCD. We have some devices in hand.

It would also be good to have a higher-resolution grating for the red side; currently, the highest resolution is obtained with a 1200 l/mm grating.

2) The 3-m dome seeing has improved, but it is thought that a dome-venting scheme with a grate in the floor and fans at the end of the basement tunnel could make a large difference. Burt, Rem, and Jerry will look at the numbers and Jerry will advise on what could be done to further improve dome seeing.

2.2 IR Lab at UCLA

1) The lab has been newly refurbished.

2) Working on Gemini repairs: things were going well on the InSb side, but there is now a problem on the HgCdTe side with an old electronics board. Finding replacement parts for this old instrument is an issue. We will know in a few weeks whether we can repair it or will need to replace it with a modern equivalent.

3) Finishing the Data Reduction Pipeline (DRP) for OSIRIS; James Larkin is in Hawaii now.

4) MOSFIRE Detailed Design Review (DDR) is in 2 weeks (April 19/20). This is an extremely busy and productive time; preparing a 200+ page report and over 100 Design Notes.

5) Getting ready for the Preliminary Design Review (PDR) in late May for Gemini Planet Imager.

2.3 Keck Observatory Activities

1) The atmospheric dispersion compensator (ADC) has almost been commissioned on Keck 1.  Its throughput is >97% and the plate scale is within 0.01% of the predicted value.

2) UC Keck usage: 65 different PIs have applied for time in the past 2 years.  Oversubscription rates: K1 is 1.4 and K2 is 2.2, although these depend on lunar phase.

3) Keck proposals can now be submitted on-line; this worked fairly well for Semester 2007B. Not yet available for the Lick 3-m telescope.

Other projects at Keck:

1) The Next Generation Adaptive Optics (NGAO) system conceptual design phase is well under way and looking good; well-run project, great team at all 3 sites (WMKO, CIT, UCSC). This is the major focus for fund-raising.      

2) MOSFIRE DDR is coming up in 2 weeks (April 19/20).

3) LRIS-R mockup is coming along fine. Connie Rockosi (UCSC) is now involved; will go to WMKO for test fit on April 24.

K1 laser is on track, though Claire is still worried about the company that was bought out by Lockheed Martin.

4) NIRES (an infrared version of ESI) is still going slowly. Caltech is making this in collaboration with Cornell.


David Tytler recommends that we buy a $10,000 prism for the blue side of LRIS for the 1000 l/mm grating – make the UV high-resolution mode better.

Big concerns at Keck are (1) budget stress, (2) the need for an AO operations group independent from AO development, and (3) performance monitoring.


In FY08 the budget is in the red by $1.3M – so our appetite was too large!

The Keck Science Steering Committee (SSC) needs to have an additional meeting to give thoughtful input/advice. We may now need to look at the cost of operations, not just our development choices.

Claire Max raised Keck Interferometer (KI) policy regarding NGAO: there are cost implications for running the KI in the future. KI requires very similar wavefront corrections at both telescopes. Should the NGAO design assume KI will be in use after 2014? The UCOAC recommends that NGAO should not worry about supporting KI; we need to finish the MRI project, but we should be cautious about going too far in case KI goes away. (There will be lost overhead and we will need to pay for KI operations.)

To save money at Keck what can we do? The UCOAC considered options:

  • Slow down Keck 1 laser integration? $200K
  • Perhaps slow down NGAO a little? $100K
  • Drop OHANA? $30K
  • Drop Newsletter? $70K
  • Drop Time Domain Astronomy? $100K
  • Drop Instrument Studies? $100K
  • Defer non-critical infrastructure issues? $200K

All this is a total of perhaps ~$800K, but it leaves ~$500K to find from operations, implying no growth in FTEs.

2.4 Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) Status

Site review: This included a recent visit to Mauna Kea. The possibility of Mauna Kea is still difficult, but not impossible, based on many new initiatives by the University of Hawaii and others to improve public relations. The recommendation is that we retain Hawaii as a potential site until we know the TMT funding situation and have a firm schedule.

However, the TMT Project is working with a reference site in [Armazones, about 20 km due east of Paranal (VLT) and higher at 10,000 ft] over Mauna Kea because of concerns about legal delays in Hawaii.

Instruments: There will be a TMT science meeting at the Beckman Center in Irvine, 2007 July 23-25. Andrea Ghez, Chuck Steidel, and Betsy Barton are leading the development of this meeting, and all of us should attend and prepare well for this meeting.

First-light instrument choices: IRIS, WFOS, MOSFIRE for TMT. Mike would like the UCO labs at Santa Cruz and UCLA to get the lead (or play a highly significant role) in all of the first-light instruments. He also pointed out that to get these instruments we need new PIs, strong project management, and strong engineering.

Mike suggests that we should also have a high-resolution spectrometer (HROS) in the first-light mix.

Claire asked whether the best first-light AO system (NFIRAOS) is being used. Also, the science instrument teams have been given responsibility for tip/tilt sensors, instead of the AO system (being developed at the Hertzberg Institute of Astrophysics: HIA). This is a concern because the science instrument teams are not expert at AO systems. Jerry thought that probably the HIA team would help the instrument teams.

UCO will also be involved in advanced phasing systems and other technology testbeds.

Operations: Funding for TMT operations is still a major issue. In 2017, the UC annual contribution to Keck operations decreases by $5.5M, half of the current cost. Assuming the savings remain “astronomy money,” they can be contributed to TMT operations, in which case the UC Office of the President (UCOP) needs to come up with only another $5.5M per year, for a total of $11M/year in UC TMT operations. This case needs to be made based on the success of the Keck Observatory for UC and the growth of astronomy in the UC system

2.5 Other Possible Projects

Large-aperture Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST): Mike visited Steve Kahn and Tony Tyson. UCO is looking at camera optics fabrication and coating (though LNLL). LSST is somewhat cash-poor at the moment.

Alex commented that obviously, we can’t commit much to LSST until we know about TMT costs and levels of UCO (Santa Cruz and UCLA) commitments to TMT projects. Mike agrees with this.

6.5-m telescope: Mike is still keen on getting private funding to develop a 6.5-m Magellan clone on San Pedro Martir (Mexico) for time-domain astronomy (and perhaps as the ultimate long-term replacement for the 3-m Shane telescope). Alex is worried about UCO having too many large telescope projects, and perceptions at UCOP. Are we being too greedy? Mike believes that the large financial leverage for the capital funding compared to the smaller operating costs is well appreciated. Upper university management likes the fact that astronomy brings in large capital, has lots of good public exposure, and requires only modest operations funding.

Palomar transient factory: This is a project being spearheaded by Shri Kulkarni at Caltech. The 1.2 m Schmidt telescope will be equipped with a new wide-field CCD camera, and operations will be optimized to search for transients that vary substantially over the course of a single night, or a few nights. Josh Bloom (UCB) is involved, as is Alex to some degree, and LBNL. Shri’s efforts are much appreciated, but nothing could be worked out for UCO as a whole.

Keck time: Caltech is considering the possibility of selling some of their time on Keck, in order to save up for 2017, when they become responsible for half of the Keck operations money. There was discussion of UC buying from Caltech. It is not obvious how to do this, since it may undermine TMT funding and Mt. Hamilton support.

TSIP: Mike reported that NSF might extend this program to 3-m-class telescopes. However, it is not obvious that we want to open up Mt. Hamilton in this way. It would be very difficult to support TSIP observers.

3. TMT Report by Jerry Nelson

Work is proceeding toward a full construction proposal. In early May 2007, it will go to an international advisory panel. In June there will be a review with this panel. The proposal will subsequently go out to Canadian funding authorities, the Moore Foundation, and probably the NSF.

Japan is being considered as a partner, but this is unlikely to happen unless TMT is on Mauna Kea. Another US university partner is also a good possibility. We could also look for another very big donor; we can offer the telescope name and the observatory name.

The current plan is to have 492 mirror segments, each 1.3 m in diameter. The Calotte dome is still a large uncertainty; ESO staff working on a 42-m telescope think we are crazy.

Claire asked: What are the most interesting technical challenges? Jerry is concerned that industry may not have the best techniques for polishing the optics and that we will have very little insight. Segmentation is an issue; we need a wave-front error (WFE) per segment of 25 nm rms for the Planet Formation Imager. The telescope mass is large – Jerry thinks it is larger than necessary. AO is very challenging, but the team is good.

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