Welcome to the Christmas newsletter! In these newsletters we often write about trade shows but say little about local points of interest, so in an attempt to redress the balance we are planning three articles about observatories that we have visited while attending trade shows. In this edition of the newsletter Steve reports on a visit to the Lick Observatory which he made during this year’s Advanced Imaging Conference. There’s also an update on the imaging competition, a description of one aspect of our manufacturing process, and a personal tribute to an individual who will be missed by the whole of the astronomical community. Before all this, though, is news of an exciting project in which Atik cameras are playing a key role.
Atik Supports MASCARA
In this case MASCARA is an acronym for Multi-site All-Sky CAmeRA, a project funded as part of a 1.5M euro grant to Leiden University. The lead researcher is Ignas Snellen who is planning to use the funding to advance exo-planet research. As you may know, exo-planets are planets orbiting stars other than our own Sun, and hold a tantalizing hope of finding life elsewhere in the universe. The easiest exo-planets to detect are large planets orbiting close to their stars, the so-called hot Jupiters, and over 100 examples of these are currently known. Research is currently moving to looking at smaller, cooler, planets with atmospheres that we might be able to analyse during the transit of such a planet across the face of its star. For this to work the scientific community needs to find suitable exo-planets for study. Ideally they should be close to us, and so are likely to be orbiting the brighter stars, and they need to be orbiting at a good distance from their parent star so will be likely to transit relatively infrequently. These constraints put these discoveries outside the comfort zone of the main exo-planet identification tool, the Kepler satellite. MASCARA’s mission is to monitor the brightest stars in the sky 24 hours a day from 5 stations positioned around the globe, each with four 11MP cameras. As most Atik personnel are amateur astronomers we jumped at the opportunity to become involved in supplying cameras for the project. The group has been using a standard Atik 11000 in their concept testing and we have provided a custom design for the next stage of the trials. We wish MASCARA well and wait with anticipation for exo-planet discoveries that could be made with Atik cameras. You can read more about the project on the project’s website, and in a very readable scientific paper recently published.
A Visit to the Lick Observatory
The Lick Observatory is high in the hills above Silicon Valley and a short trip west of San Jose where the Advanced Imaging Conference is held.
Let’s start at the start with the drive to the summit of mount Hamilton. This is a glorious winding road with little traffic, which offers stunning views over Santa Clara and San Jose. It’s amazing just to stop and look at the valley and take in the number of high-tech firms concentrated in this small area. While the road has several hair-pin bends, the surface was pretty good and the drive relaxing enough. Writing this I now have no idea how they can bike up a mountain of 4000ft but there were plenty of them and several at the top!
At the top is a large visitor centre with a number of rooms explaining the work that has been done on the site including ground-breaking work on stellar spectra. Tours of the telescopes run every half hour or so. At the time I visited I was the only one waiting to be shown around so I got to chat and ask plenty of questions during the visit. The most interesting telescope on site is the 1887 36-inch refractor with a lens by the renowned UK lens grinders Alvan Clark and Sons. The two facts that stick in my mind are that the whole floor of the observatory (and it’s big) can be raised or lowered to suit the eyepiece height, and that James Lick, the funder behind the observatory, is buried under the telescope. I guess if he should ever hear something that makes him turn in his grave, the vibration is observed in the eyepiece. Overall the telescope is a wonderful bit of vintage engineering and looks absolutely stunning.
Apart from the 26-inch refractor there is also an observation area to look into the 3m reflector dome. This telescope sits in a skeleton tube on a massive fork mount. While I was there technicians were changing instruments using a folk lift. This telescope is still used by researchers at the university of California and has one of the first Adaptive Optics systems.
As ever, the exit was through a well-stocked gift shop where I picked up a couple of gifts for my children. All in all, a very enjoyable and worthwhile visit.
The Atik 2012/2013 Imaging Competition
The imaging competition is in full swing with new entries coming in every day. Thanks to all who have entered so far; it has been a real joy for us to see the images that have been taken using Atik cameras. Remember, this year’s top prize is an Atik 11000 camera, and the runners up can choose an off-axis guider or a filterwheel. The closing date is 27 January 2013, but please don’t leave it to the last week as I am having website as it is . Below is a collection of thumbnails of the images uploaded so far; I will endeavour to upload another batch before Christmas.
How it’s Made – Machining
Atik is well known for providing excellent quality products at an affordable price. A good portion of that achievement has its roots in our parts manufacturers, and aluminium machining is probably a nice example of that. We source parts from a company near Lisbon, whose owner is a former aircraft parts machining specialist. Highly advanced CNC programming skills arenecessary to create some of the complex parts on our cameras, where precision and repeatability are essential to achieve the performance our customers expect. Close cooperation between design and manufacturing does the rest of the job.
The legendary lightness and robustness of Atik cameras come to life right here!
With the recent passing of Sir Patrick Moore, I want to share a personal story which illustrates a side of him that is perhaps not very evident from his public persona – his warmth and generosity.
Like many of my generation, my earliest memory of Patrick Moore was from the BBC coverage of the Apollo missions. Being a child at the time, I never dreamed that our paths were to cross many years later. My first personal encounter with him was in the control room of the William Herschel Telescope on La Palma, where I was working as a software engineer and he was visiting to film an edition of The Sky at Night. Although I was one of many technical staff at the observatory, and a junior one at that, he was very friendly and showed great interest in what I was doing. He visited La Palma a couple more times while I was there, on one occasion giving a talk to the observatory staff and their families in which he entertained young and old alike with anecdotes from his broadcasting career and some colourful descriptions of the Solar System, demonstrating the rotation of the Moon using a chair and a member of the audience.
My next encounter with him was in less happy circumstances: my young nephew, who was very interested in astronomy, was severely ill and also extremely disappointed to have missed a trip to the observatory on La Palma through being in hospital, and I contacted Patrick to ask if he might be kind enough to send my nephew a card to help cheer him up. This was rather cheeky of me on the basis of such flimsy acquaintance, and I doubted that Patrick would remember me, but I thought it was worth a shot. Patrick immediately offered to go and visit my nephew in hospital but, when that was not possible for reasons to do with my nephew’s care, he suggested that I bring my nephew to his house for tea when he was well enough. So, some time later, off we went to Farthings and had tea with Patrick Moore. He showed us around his study, which was exactly as you might imagine, with star charts, books, scientific apparatus, Apollo memorabilia and the famous ancient typewriter on which he did so much of his work. We then had tea, and a long talk about astronomy and other things, after which Patrick gave my nephew a number of books and a map of the Moon, and invited us to go back when the weather improved to do some observing with his telescopes. This little adventure lifted my nephew’s spirits more than anything else could have done.
This might sound cynical but I expect that it is rare for celebrities to do anything charitable without photo-stunts and PR advisors and an agent to ensure that the event generates profitable publicity, but this was an act of kindness motivated by generosity alone. I remember thinking at the time that he deserved a knighthood; funnily enough, he was given one the following year. Sir Patrick was a national institution and well known for being many things – eccentric, broadcaster, astronomer, writer, musician, composer – but he was also very kind.
A picture of NGC672 and IC1727. These are scientifically interesting galaxies in Triangulum, which have odd red shifts and very interesting shapes and colours. The image was taken by Steve using a C11 and an Atik 460ex.
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Have an enjoyable festive season, and let’s hope for some clear skies over Christmas and into the New Year.
With best wishes for Christmas and the New Year, from all of us at Atik Cameras.