A Journey in the Dark

It turns out that Boyden Observatory is not a top tourist destination for the people of Ireland, so there are no direct flights. We will travel via Paris and Johannesburg to Bloemfontein, the closest city to Boyden. The longest leg of the journey is a 10.5 hour late-night flight from Paris to Johannesburg. As with any good telescope servicing mission, it begins at 39A. Unfortunately for me, it’s the 39A bus to UCD, not launchpad 39A, oh well. At UCD, I pick up the flight-case containing our Andor camera and new filter-wheel and filters. It seems that at each airport, I will also pick up a new member of the servicing team. At Dublin airport I meet Martin, a fellow member of the Watcher team. In Paris we meet Mates, an astrophysicist from the BOOTES team. And finally, in Johannesburg we meet Standa, an electrical engineer from the Czech Technical University in Prague. We have been brought together by the GLORIA project, which aims to give anyone with an interest in astronomy free access to research-grade telescopes. We hope that Watcher will soon join the list of available telescopes. From Bloemfontein airport, we drop off our bags at our accommodation and then drive the short distance to Boyden. Our contact at Boyden, Pat, is waiting to show us around. My first time seeing Watcher in the flesh. It’s bigger than I expected. It’s now well over 24 hours since I left Dublin, so unfortunately observing will have to wait for another...

An Unexpected Journey

Almost seven months ago Watcher suddenly became a lot wetter than it was designed to be. You can read all about it in this post. Since then, the Watcher team has been meeting regularly to plan repairs and upgrades. As the Watcher team is 9700km from Watcher, this is not an easy task, but with a lot of help from our colleagues at Boyden Observatory, we were able to organise the necessary repairs. At the start of July, Prof. Hanlon asked me to join the servicing mission and travel to South Africa. Of course I jumped at such an amazing opportunity! Due to some scheduling conflicts, the trip would have to take place during the first two weeks in July; just three weeks to get everything ready! I had already done extensive research into upgrading Watcher’s filter system, so implementing this upgrade would be one of my main objectives. Over the next few weeks, we finalised our upgrade plans and ordered the new parts. This wasn’t easy on such a short timescale, but thanks to the very kind people at both FLI and Astrodon, that really went above and beyond the call of duty, we just about got all our new parts on time. The Andor camera arrived back from it’s refurbishment in Belfast late last week. I’ve packed it up along with the new filter-wheel and filters in a flight-case. It’s small, but maybe not cabin-baggage small; I might have to press my luck to keep this thing in my possession at all times during the journey to...

A Short Rest

During the night of Sunday the 8th of December 2013 a sudden storm at the Boyden observatory caused a power outage that resulted in Watcher taking a rather unwanted shower. Since then Watcher has been undergoing maintenance to several different components in order to bring it back online. Inside Information The telescope software (RTS2) is, by default, a very paranoid piece of code. It contains a lot of fail-safes in order to protect the telescope from a variety of sources. One of these fail-safes is the list of required devices. If communication to one of the required devices is severed then the dome closes and observations stop. The three required devices for Watcher are the rain sensor, cloud sensor and the uninterruptible power supply (UPS). If the telescope software loses contact with any of these systems, or if the sensors trigger for rain or cloud, the dome will close until everything is safe to observe again. The Gathering of the Clouds During the summer of 2013, the communication system (polling) between the telescope and the UPS was continually failing. In order to prevent unnecessary dome closures, the UPS was removed from the required devices list. Despite this, the UPS remained functional and provided to the entire system during the frequent power outages that the observatory undergoes. The polling frequency on Watcher has been set to 300 seconds, which is also intended to prevent unwarranted dome closures due to temporary outages in polling the rain sensor. The Clouds Burst Everything happened very quickly on Sunday the 8th, all in less than 2 minutes. The UPS was not fully working, and...