Manastash Ridge Observatory Imaging Camera Upgrade
We are proposing a major upgrade to the Manastash Ridge Observatory (MRO) imaging camera system, which will enhance the astronomical research capabilities available to undergraduate and graduate students at the University of Washington. This interdepartmental, student-led initiative will outfit MRO with a new, more capable research-grade CCD to replace the current aging camera. A team of UW students from multiple departments (astronomy, physics, electrical engineering, and mechanical engineering) will lead the engineering effort to integrate this camera with the telescope. Additionally, a new camera guider system designed by the Astronomy Undergraduate Engineering Group team will be installed. This upgrade will open new avenues for scholarly, cutting-edge research by UW students, especially in the exciting areas of exoplanets and time-domain astronomy. Oversight and support for this project will be provided by the UW Astronomy Department.
This new imaging system will enhance the scientific capabilities of the observatory and expand the available research opportunities for students. This upgrade will proceed with substantial contributions from undergraduate students in the design and implementation of the new guider system, and the purchase of a new off-the-shelf high performance CCD camera. Therefore, this proposal falls squarely within the “Machinery and Research” category.
Manastash Ridge Observatory (MRO) is home to a 30" telescope used for undergraduate and graduate education and research. All UW Astronomy graduate students receive valuable hands-on experience at the telescope to hone their observing skills. Additionally, Astronomy undergrads have the unique opportunity to participate in the capstone course sequence, which includes spending a summer observing on the telescope engaged in real astronomical research with faculty and graduate students. Once trained with this facility, both graduate and undergraduate students use MRO for a wide range of research projects.
Besides the primary mirror itself, the imaging camera system is the most critical piece of hardware for a telescope. In 2004 the old custom science grade camera was replaced with a newly available off-the-shelf option. At the time this was a remarkable upgrade for MRO, as it freed the observatory from requiring a specialized instrumentation team to maintain the imaging systems. Unfortunately this system is reaching the end of its extended warranty and useful life as a research instrument, and has been experiencing an increasing rate of minor failures. Additionally, the camera is not compatible with modern Windows PCs, and old computer hardware and software must be kept running just to support it. Without a functional camera, the entire MRO facility is useless as a research tool. Using the enhanced performance of the imaging and tracking system in this proposal, MRO will be able to pursue major new avenues of astronomical research.
There have been several recent developments that make this the ideal time for upgrading the MRO camera system. First is a major grant from the Campus Sustainability Fund to upgrade the infrastructure of the observatory to decrease its environmental impact. This exciting proposal can be found here: (http://green.uw.edu/csf/project/535). Second is the increasing use of MRO over the past 5 years in concert with NASA sponsored projects to study extra-solar planets (exoplanets) and other rare objects. Third is the formation of a dedicated group of students led by UW Astronomy telescope engineering staff, the Astronomy Undergraduate Engineering Group (AUEG), who are designing and building new technology for MRO and other facilities. The AUEG is an interdisciplinary group consisting of students from Physics, Astronomy, and Electrical Engineering departments that focuses on engineering research as applied to the field of Astronomy.
The MRO camera is used to capture astronomical images and time-series data, which allows the study of phenomena as varied as transits of planets around other stars, flaring M-dwarfs, and explosive stellar outbursts. Future projects are planned at MRO to monitor variable and binary stars, and search for exoplanet transits. In the new era of "big data" and large-scale survey astronomy, dedicated facilities like MRO play a key role in characterizing these phenomena. A new CCD and guider system will ensure that MRO is well suited for these tasks by equipping student researchers with the most precise and up-to-date equipment available. The new CCD camera will enhance the maximum angular resolution achievable in our observations, increasing the detail that can be seen in extended objects such as planetary nebulae and the coma of comets. An updated guider system will augment the capability of MRO to precisely track the motion of objects including stars, planets, and nearby comets, and improve the quality of data gathered by student researchers. These upgrades are critical to ensuring MRO's continued success as a research grade facility.
MRO has a strong record of student-driven research projects, many of which lead to peer-reviewed publications and presentations at national conferences. MRO data has been used in several recent Ph.D. thesis projects. To date MRO has been used by students to study a wide range of astronomical phenomena, including cataclysmic variable stars, pulsating stars, flaring stars, supernovae, planetary nebulae, comets, stellar winds, interstellar dust, star clusters, carbon stars, emission nebulae, asteroids, quasars, moons around gas giant planets, white dwarfs, and even volcanic ash in Earth’s atmosphere.
The primary component of this proposal is the purchase of an Andor iKon-M 934 science grade CCD imaging camera. This camera is a perfect match for the telescope optics, and is the latest generation of the camera that has been on the telescope for the past decade. Further, the "quantum efficiency" is extremely high for this CCD, meaning MRO will be able to observe even fainter and more distant objects. The camera will communicate to our image acquisition computer via USB, and comes with drivers to support any operating system of our choice. This flexibility in drivers will allow the observatory to complete the transfer to a modern Linux-based computer system, rather than the unsupported Windows XP architecture currently in use.
Along with the purchase of a new imaging camera, MRO requires a significant upgrade to the object guiding system. This guider enables the telescope to track and study faint or moving objects for long periods of time. The guider detector will be provided by the Astronomy Department, but other components are necessary for the system to be fully operational. The AUEG students have already researched and produced a full design for the guider mechanics, interface, and software. A draft documentation paper can be found here:
The manufacture and implementation of the guider will allow for hands-on engineering experience for these students. The enhanced capability for MRO to guide on moving or faint objects will allow exciting new science in near-Earth objects such as comets and exoplanet detection for MRO.
Benefits to Students and the University
MRO is used almost every day during the summer months, and is highly used by graduate and undergraduate students throughout the observing season. Between 20 and 40 new students use the observatory every summer. This facility is unique among science-grade observatories because all research carried out is student-led. By providing a new camera and guiding system, in concert with other major investments by the UW Astronomy Department and the UW Campus Sustainability Fund, we will be able to improve the quality and quantity of student-led research at the site.
Undergraduate students from multiple departments benefit from this project from an engineering perspective. To properly install the proposed camera a new mounting system must be designed, the software to process the images written, and the electronics to control the telescope must be modified. This is a unique hands-on laboratory setting, where real world engineering skills are developed that will help produce an important research instrument. Six students have already signed on to help with the testing, manufacturing, and installation of the new imaging system.
Undergraduate research will benefit by the ability to learn to use the high-end research equipment that they will encounter as graduate students. Learning how to analyze images of faint objects and study moving sources are extremely sought after skills for observational astronomy. Many undergraduates use data collected from MRO to publish their first research papers or present at prestigious astronomical conferences.
Graduate students will utilize the new system for increased research productivity and a greater range of scientific capability. Each entering cohort of graduate students is trained at MRO before going on to use major national observatories. Many of these students continue to perform their own research using MRO equipment. The new imaging camera is critical for studying the faintest possible objects, and the addition of the guider system enables cutting edge time-domain science.
Providing access to a new research grade imaging and guiding system will allow more student-led astronomy research to be done at UW, rather than at more expensive facilities outside the university. MRO will also become more valuable as an instrument for follow-up studies led by UW graduate students in national and international collaborations. The benefit to the UW is clear: a continued reputation for cutting edge astronomical research and training for its students.
I enthusiastically endorse this cross-disciplinary, student-led initiative to markedly upgrade the camera at the Manastash Ridge Observatory (MRO). The camera and related guider upgrades will greatly enhance research scholarship opportunities for both undergraduate and graduate students at MRO; such emphasis on hands-on research training has been center-stage in growing our undergraduate major program in astronomy into one of the largest few in the nation, and moving our graduate PhD program in astronomy well into the "top ten" (ranked about 6th in the US in the recent review by the NRC of the National Academy of Sciences). The Manastash Ridge Observatory 30" telescope, with the camera as the most-heavily used (though presently outdated) instrument, serves as a capstone experience for many of our undergraduate majors, and has similarly served many graduate students for past decades. This initiative and upgrade will be the foundation for enhancing MRO for its next decade of such student research. But in addition, this initiative is even more novel in that the engineering upgrades themselves will also be done largely by our UW students, including students from astronomy, physics, and engineering departments; this represents a unique resource and opportunity that combines both hands-on training in instrumentation engineering, and then the enhanced scientific research enabled by that new instrumentation. Thank you for considering for STF support this outstanding and innovative, student-led scientific and engineering endeavor.
Chair, UW Astronomy Department
I enthusiastically endorse this student-led project to provide upgraded imaging capability at the UW Manastash Ridge Observatory (MRO). MRO is an important department facility that is heavily used by undergraduate and graduate students for training in observational techniques and carrying out astronomical research. With help from engineers in the UW Telescope Engineering Group (which supports our professional telescopes at Apache Point Observatory in New Mexico, where I serve as Director), the students have put together a fantastic proposal for a new imaging camera and guider system at MRO that will be a significant improvement over our current aging instrumentation. The department fully supports both the engineering effort and the new research and educational capabilities that will be enabled by this upgrade. All graduate students are trained at MRO as part of ASTR 581, and nearly all undergraduate majors are trained as part of AST 481, making MRO an essential part of our experimental program. Several research papers each year use data from MRO, including the PhD thesis of my recent student Eric Hilton. Although students will carry out the bulk of the work, the department and the Director of APO (me) will ensure that support from APO engineers is available as needed.
Vice Chair, UW Department of Astronomy
Director, Apache Point Observatory (APO)
The imaging upgrade for Manastash Ridge Observatory is an important projects that will benefit undergraduate training and research for years to come. It is also uniquely timed so that a group of students who are already working on the telescope's system will take on the integration and qualification work. This is a great opportunity for them to expand the scope of their project in a way that makes sense, and further develop our telescope engineering group and ties with other departments. It will also assure that the next generation of students have access to our established training program, which represents the capstone of our major, and it will expand the possible projects students can complete.
Astronomy Lecturer, UW Seattle
As a past faculty MRO Director, I can attest to the great value of MRO for students to gain hands-on experience with a research quality telescope and detector. Over the past 40 years, undergrad and graduate students working with me have published 40 papers in refereed journals using data from MRO. Many of these papers have involved student research on following the orbits of binary stars. To enable MRO to compete in a world of advancing technology, upgrades are essential. This student-led initiative will provide a better detector and a way to guide on an object, enabling fainter systems to be reached and facilitating the creation of light curves for time-resolved studies. Small telescopes can produce excellent research if the equipment is state-of-the-art. These upgrades, done by both engineering and astronomy students, provide both hands-on equipment experience that can feed into future jobs, and enable valuable opportunities to conduct unique research projects. They will enable students to learn the real world problems involved in obtaining high quality data as well as how to turn that data into a publishable paper. I fully endorse this interdepartmental student led initiative.
Professor of Astronomy, U of Washington
I have had a constant stream of undergraduate students doing research projects at Manastash Ridge Observatory (MRO) over the last 15 years. These projects have led to refereed publications and presentations at national and international astronomical meetings and at the UW Undergraduate Research Symposium. MRO is a unique resource for undergraduates, both for research and for the development of practical skills via telescope engineering hardware and software projects. The proposed student-led project will greatly improve the research capabilities at MRO and will provide students with opportunities to design and build telescope systems, invaluable experiences for developing their knowledge and toolbox of abilities.
Emeritus Research Professor of Astronomy
As a faculty at the UW Astronomy Department I value the role of MRO in training our undergraduate and grad students. Field experience is fundamental to learn how `science gets done' and modern instruments are absolutely necessary in a rapidly changing, highly competitive field as astrophysics. I strongly endorse this student-led initiative!
Research Professor, UW Astronomy Department
We will begin designing and machining the necessary parts immediately upon receiving approval. Of the components that need to be ordered, the imaging camera will have the longest lead time of six weeks for delivery, and should arrive in June or July of 2015. All other components are available for immediate delivery. Machining and construction of the imaging and guider mechanics will be complete in August 2015.
Lab testing of the entire imaging system will precede installation, and should take approximately two weeks with help from the UW Telescope Engineering Group staff. This testing phase should be completed in late September.
The installation at the MRO site will require several trips by students and staff, facilitated by the UW Astronomy Department. This process should take 4-5 weeks, with the entire imaging system being operational and fully tested in October or early November 2015.
Resources Provided by Department
The department of Astronomy has already contributed funds for the purchase of a camera for the guider system, and has also committed to providing personnel resources to make this project a success. These include the capabilities of the AUEG, several faculty members, and a telescope engineer. The collaborative effort described will not only result in a timely completion of this project, but the completion of a high quality piece of research equipment.
In addition to the guider system camera, tangible resources that will be contributed include: UW lab space for testing, computers, and software. The computers and software are necessary for design work, data acquisition, and pre-commissioning characterization. Student contributions from the AUEG will include: machining of custom components, lab testing, data acquisition software development, guider acquisition and image analysis development, and telescope control systems integration.
The Department of Astronomy will also contribute any funds necessary to see this project to a timely and successful completion. These include, but are not limited too: UW vehicle rental fees, student hourly costs, unexpected material costs, miscellaneous testing costs, etc.
The long-term maintenance of the new CCD and guider system will be funded by the UW Astronomy Department, which includes staff salary and regular preventative inspections of equipment on site. Each year the MRO facility is shut down for the winter and sensitive equipment such as the CCD camera is brought back to Seattle for maintenance and safekeeping. This regular maintenance is funded by the UW Astronomy department and MRO, and supported by the UW Telescope Engineering Group. Additionally, graduate student and undergraduate student volunteers will assist with any immediate system failures during operation.
Access Restrictions (if any)
MRO is a remote research facility, and any persons working on site must be trained to use the observatory and equipment in a safe manner. This training is offered as part of an undergraduate observational astronomy class, a graduate level observational astronomy class, or through training requests sent to the observatory Director. External users may be trained outside of these methods by authorized faculty or staff of the observatory.
After a user is trained on the use of the telescope and equipment they may schedule an observing run with the Director and Assistant Director of the observatory. As part of the time allotment to use the telescope and camera the user must provide safe transportation to the Observatory site, which the UW Astronomy department facilitates in most cases.
As an undergraduate in the Astronomy program, observational astronomy is an emphasized topic in our curriculum. What isn’t as emphasized, however, is the engineering that goes into making these observations possible. Having the 30” telescope at MRO, and the opportunity to work in the AUEG on the auto guider, is now allowing me to gain some insight into this aspect of astronomy. Improving the facility at MRO will allow students like myself to learn about instrumentation while implementing these improvements, as well as improve research capabilities at MRO for all involved in the department.
MRO, and by extension the telescope and equipment in the observatory, have been more than just a great student experience for me, it has helped shape the course of my education and professional future. Having the opportunity to do practical observation is a part of our undergraduate education that is exceedingly rare in astronomy programs. This experience allowed me to explore observatory operations and discover my affinity for instrumentation and engineering for astronomical purposes. The work that I have done with and for the observatory was a substantial part of my application to the UW’s graduate program in engineering, and no doubt played a sizable role in my acceptance into that program. MRO has been responsible for significant change and progress in both my academic and professional life, and I, like many other students, am dedicated to improving the observatory as much as possible during my tenure here.
Senior, Physics & Astronomy
Accepted UW Mechanical Engineering Masters Program
As a junior in the University of Washington’s astronomy department I intend to spend many hours observing at MRO in the progression of my bachelor’s degree. I will be using MRO to collect imagery and data for research papers. An upgrade to the main science camera will greatly increase my ability to do research and prepare for further studies in astronomy. As a member of the AUEG, I would also benefit from a replacement science camera as I would be involved in the engineering and machining of any replacement equipment, this would be a very valuable experience to add to my education. Thank you for considering our application for funding.
For the first two years as an undergraduate at the University of Washington, Manastash Ridge Observatory has been a dream of mine to go to. When I finally got to go there, it held up to everything I put it up to be. The capturing of science images of various Messier objects exposes me to an experience I could not get anywhere else. I learned tools that will aid me in the rest of my career. Future trips to the observatory could benefit me and other students with even more accurate images, giving us the opportunity to explore different ways to analyze the data taken. Manastash Ridge is an irreplaceable experience and the implementation of improved equipment will only add to the undergraduates’ knowledge of observing astronomical objects.
Senior, Physics & Astronomy
I am a senior astronomy PhD student who was originally trained to use a telescope using the imaging camera at MRO, and have now trained undergraduate students to do the same as a TA for ASTR481. The imaging camera is by far the most useful instrument for a small telescope facility like MRO, and is the first exposure for undergrad and grad students at UW to independently operating a telescope. The experience gained in learning to operate a telescope, use the telescope/camera controls software, and reduction of imaging data is invaluable for a future career in astronomy. I have experienced first hand the multitude of issues with the current aging camera at MRO while training undergraduates in ASTR 481, and fully endorse a much-needed replacement. Trips to MRO is one of the highlights of the UW undergraduate astronomy experience, and upkeep of the facilities (and the telescope camera in particular) should be a priority.
PhD student, Astronomy
As a recent graduate from the department of electrical engineering at UW, I can attest to the allure of space-related work among engineers. This type of work can, however, be quite difficult to find. I am very grateful to be a part of this project, which has done an excellent job of bringing engineering students like myself towards the field of astronomy. I look forward to continuing on this path.
Recent Graduate, Electrical Engineering
MRO is a key part of the graduate training program at UW. For some grad students who come to the department from non-astronomy undergraduate programs (e.g. physics), visiting MRO is often their very first experience collecting data at a telescope. This is clearly an invaluable skill for astronomers! MRO is the only telescope in Washington State accessible to all UW graduate students for their research, so it represents a unique asset to our department. Upgrading the MRO equipment would benefit all astronomy students, both graduate and undergraduate.
PhD student, Astronomy
MRO is a great teaching tool. I found it really valuable to be able to go to the observatory and practice taking data and reducing astronomical images as a part of our graduate observing class. Having the ability to work with a science-class telescope is key to the development of skills in observation techniques for astronomy students.
Astronomy PhD student
The Manastash Ridge Observatory (MRO) has provided me the opportunity to operate a research grade telescope as an undergrad, which is not common at many universities. As an aspiring stellar astronomer, UW has prepared me through my coursework to understand astronomical concepts. However, it was not until planning an observational run with the summer Astro 481 class, and being trained on the MRO telescope, that I developed an understanding for the process of obtaining astronomical data that I will surely utilize in graduate school. I loved going to MRO. It was exciting, challenging, and, afterwards, I felt like a true astronomer. I learned how to problem solve when a technical or other issue occurred, and have gained confidence from the experience that will surely benefit me throughout my career. Improving the instrumentation of this telescope can only add to the benefits gained by future undergraduates. The facility has also benefited my undergraduate research on eclipsing binaries, which included MRO data taken by graduate students. Using this, along with data from other professional facilities, I was able to characterize these star systems. I believe this research was crucial for my acceptance to the Leiden Observatory Research Experience for Undergraduates that I will be participating in this summer. Furthermore, because MRO impacted me so, I helped in writing the Environmental Problems section of the MRO Sustainability proposal earlier this year. Similar to this proposal, I feel it is greatly important that this facility be maintained and improved, since it has been so valuable in providing a unique college experience that invoked enthusiasm and eagerness with my field, while providing extremely useful training for the future.
Senior, UW Astronomy and Physics Major
Manastash Ridge Observatory has been one of the most important facilities in my training as scientist while at the University of Washington. I first used MRO in 2005 as an undergraduate at UW, being trained by UW graduate students who would become long term career mentors for me. This summer I spent using MRO changed my academic and career paths entirely. Before I trained at MRO I had never considered pursuing a graduate degree or a career in astronomy. The research I did at MRO as an undergraduate led to my first peer-reviewed journal publication, and presentation of my results at a major astronomy conference in 2006. When I returned to the UW in 2009 to work on my PhD, MRO became an invaluable tool for training my own students in astronomy research, and for carrying out my own research projects. I have used MRO for various research programs every year since 2009. The hands-on nature of the facility, and the high level of availability given to UW students, allows me to try new projects at MRO before applying to major observatories. As I prepare to leave UW with my PhD to work as a NSF postdoctoral fellow, I credit the unique opportunities afforded to me at MRO as being integral to my growth as a research scientist. I strongly endorse this proposal for a new imaging system. It will give the observatory the imaging camera it desperately needs to continue operating for many years, and the upgraded capabilities will enable UW students to begin even more ambitious research programs.
6th year Phd Candidate, Astronomy
UW Class of 2007, Physics and Astronomy
I am currently a PhD candidate in Astronomy and Astrobiology. Prior to my time at UW, I worked with 0.8 m – 1.8 m class telescopes to observe cataclysmic variable stars and comets. I know first hand the kind of awesome research these small/medium class telescopes can accomplish, and MRO is no exception. It is important to remember that MRO is the most advanced optical research telescope in the state of Washington. In this way, it is a symbol of prestige for the University of Washington and a demonstration of its commitment to provide undergraduate and graduate students with research opportunities. In the era of wide scale survey astronomy, it will fall to small to medium class telescopes to follow up interesting time-variable objects identified by all sky surveys. With the support of STF, UW students will make a great contribution to this effort. The imaging upgrade presented in this proposal will provide an excellent test bed for developing the skills of undergraduate and graduate observers in tandem with the opportunity to collect research quality, publishable data. Speaking personally, my training at MRO brought me closer to my graduate cohort and served as an excellent bridge for observational training at larger telescopes. I strongly endorse this proposal.
PhD Candidate, Astronomy & Astrobiology
The Manastash Ridge Observatory provides a learning experience that most classes are unable to offer. While there are classes that give some hands on experience with observational astronomy there is little offered that deals with the instrumentation of the equipment that we all use. Being involved with upgrades at MRO has provided a look into other possible career paths in the field. Groups that are involved with instrumentation at MRO like the AUEG provide students with useful knowledge about how to operate a full sized observatory, taking advantage of all that MRO has to offer.
Junior, Physics & Astronomy
This camera is a low noise 1K x 1K detector with 13 micron pixels. It has thermo-electric cooling to -100C while support up to 5MHz readout rates.Justification
Science Grade Imaging Camera
|Precision Micro Control Corp||$1,895.00||1||$1,895.00|
The MultiFlex PCI 1440 motion controller is designed for high-performance PC-based multi-axis motion control applications which require 4 axes of pulse stepper control. Optional encoder inputs for closed-loop stepper or pulse-based servo control and general-purpose analog inputs are also available for this modelJustification
Motion Control Card for Telescope Interface
Connector for MultiFlex PCI 1440Justification
Necessary for connection to telescope.
Cable for connection to MultiFlex PCI 1440.Justification
Cable to connect to telescope.
Standard desktop computer with i7 processor, 8gb ram, and 1TB hard drive.Justification
Will be used for image acquisition, image analysis, guider computation, and telescope interface.
Standard rackmount industrial server case.Justification
Rackmount industrial computer case for placing Dell XPS in computer rack.
This is a hybrid FPGA that will handle low level control of the guider motor interface system.Justification
Low level guider control.
This bearing allows for the guide camera to be oriented in the same position while sampling a larger effective field.Justification
Rotation of Guider System
This bearing allows the guider to move along the optical axis which will allow for adaptive focus corrections.Justification
Guider Focus Bearing
Aluminum box tubing, 6" x 6" x 0.5".Justification
Guider pickoff mirror support.
Aluminum solid rod, 8" diameter, 6" length.Justification
Science camera mounting adapter.
Delrin, 12" x 12" x 0.75".Justification
Guider pickoff mirror flexure mount.
|Haydon Kerk Motion||$134.78||1||$134.78|
Open linear actuator for precision alignment.Justification
Linear Actuator for discrete guider focus control.
This item connects the PC104 and transform the move command to an amplified motor control signal.Justification
Driver for linear actuator.
Round aluminum tubing with an outer diameter of 12.75" and a wall thickness of 0.375".Justification
14" x 14" x 0.5" piece of aluminum sheet.Justification
Mounting base plate for science camera.
Aluminum rod, 5" diameter, 12" length.Justification
Guider rotation internals.
Stainless steel plate, 12" x 12" x 0.375".Justification
First surface base plate for guider pick off mirror.
|Estimated Sales Tax||$3,203.00||1||$3,203.00|
This is the inclusion of the sales tax for the purchased items.
Total requested: $36,917.95
Total funded: $36,917.95
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