Just as we thought we had completed all the restoration work on the Charterhouse Telescope, and had started booking in groups to raise funds, we hit a snag....
This is the mechanism which opens and closes the observatory roof. The steel cable which runs over the back of the dome to open the door snapped after a user failed to observe the "opening & closing instructions" just above said winch.
The dome door was closed at the time, which means that we cannot open it. It also means that the extremely heavy dome door dropped forward, leaving a rather large gap, right above where the telescope mount sits.
We managed to prop the door back up, just enough to close the gap in the roof, but on further investigation, it was decided that it was not viable to repair the current system. The pair of winches that operate the opening and closing are old and starting to wear out, so even though this is a frustrating set back it has given us the opportunity to do two things;
After a lot of work, Dudley had his official "Grand Re-opening" on the 12th December which was attended by members of the WMA, the public who had helped fund the repairs and members of the team who helped make it all happen.
Unfortunately (as is mostly the case in England) the cloud prevented us from actually observing with the telescope, but the hard work that had been done to get to where we were was really appreciated by those in attendance. There was a lot of very kind feedback from the visitors, and the restoration means that Dudley should be in service for another 50 years!
Long Overdue Updates
its been a long time since I updated the blog, and a lot has happened since the last post.
In the time between posts, the decision was made that the scope wasn't working as well as it should, even after the upgrade of the motors.
The decision was taken to disassemble the telescope entirely, and send the mount for engineering work, the mirrors for recoating, and repairs to be conducted on the dome itself.
Below are some images of this work in action. We are now reaching a point where we are ready to start putting the scope back together, in preparation for the winter.
Some months ago now, the team decided that Duddley (A.K.A The Charterhouse Telescope) needed to have his motors rebuilt. There have been significant setbacks during this process, mainly the motors coming back and not fitting back on the mount, and then when the RA was placed on the second time, the motor was in the wrong place!
However, with some amount of perseverance, quite a lot of swearing, and a lot of head scratching, we are finally there!
Well.......almost. The RA drive is worlds better than it ever has been. It moves the scope extremely smoothly, and appears to track almost perfectly (there is lots more testing before I can say that for certain) and it seems to drive across the sky with the Go-To very nicely.
The downside is that we now seem to be having issues with the DEC drive not moving properly. We believe we know what the issue is, and are working to resolve it. The DEC drive isn't so critical and will not prevent us doing some long duration testing, which will be coming up in the weeks to come.
Word about the project is now spreading and there are many people interested in its work. I recently hosted an information stand at a WMA event and had long discussion with BBC's Will Gater (the guest speaker) who is something of an exoplanet expert. He has heard a lot of the Charterhouse Telescope, and will hopefully be visiting in the near future.
So, just another brief update on whats been happening recently;
Following a number of problems over quite a long period of time, we will be removing the tracking motors from the Fullerscope's mount, and AWR (the manufacturer) are going to do some modifications to them such that the current "RA Slip" is resolved. This should hopefully mean that the scope slews completely accurately over large areas of the sky, and we can better utilize the intelligent handset. This pretty simple thing is unimaginably vital to the operation of the telescope, both for research purposes and for outreach.
The telescope is so vast that its really tricky to keep getting up to the eyepiece to verify the object is in the eyepiece and re-shuffling when its not. So this is a great piece of work.
Last night we were joined up at the observatory by a small group of friends for a casual "show & tell" observation evening, which I am pleased to say was very well received. It also helped that we were blessed with amazingly clear skies!
Once we had completed the show and tell, we managed to collect some image data of Regulus.
We are still finding our feet with imaging so we are trying to practice as much as possible on random targets, such that when we get a good long clear night, we can collect some data from our target variable (This is for our verification for KELT).
Having calibrated and processed the data, we were able to achieve images with a precision of 1/1000th of a magnitude. This is a great achievement, and is very promising for our future project.
Images from the Observing Session
Image Credit - Hollie Stickland
A lot has been happening since my last project update. So I thought I should probably write a brief update of events.
Since the last update we have managed to figure out how to use the telescopes "intelligent handset". This is the unit which controls the scopes motors, the same as most telescopes today have go-to handsets. I was very surprised that this particular handset is far easier to use than even my own skywatcher go-to unit.
The next major developments are the contacts we are making, AND the potential collaboration with the KELT-North project. This is a project which is being run by academics, students and amateurs from Ohio State University & Vanderbilt University in the US.
In my correspondences with Professor Kievan Stassun (Vanderbilt) and Professor Joshua Pepper (Lehigh University) we have agreed that Charterhouse will produce a lightcuve for a variable star, to assess our instrumental precision. This is going to make up the bulk of our work for the coming month (assuming we have some clear skies!)
I was pointed in the direction of these guys by Dr David Charbonneau who is a professor at Harvard, and an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics. He has written a lot of papers on Exoplanets, that have made up the bulk of the research material I have read for background.
My third contact who has kindly offered to set us up with a number of his academic colleagues is Paul Wilson (Exeter University). He has kindly offered to liaise with us regarding some other projects he has in the pipeline.
I Would like to thank the people mentioned above, for assisting us with this project, and I hope this is the start of an interesting research life for the observatory.
Trials and Tribulations of Hunting Needles in Hay Stacks
I thought it might be worth briefly talking about what it is I'm actually aiming to study, and then discuss what the challenges are that I'm going to be facing.
The light curves have very distinct features, which can tell us a lot about the planet itself. The horizontal parts of the curve are the normal 'brightness' of the parent star, in this case normalized to a flux of 1. As the exoplanet begins to transit across the limb of the star (ingress), the brightness begins to dip. The flat bottom of the curve is the period of the planet passing across the disc of the star, and this is the minimum flux intensity. Then as the planet transits across the second limb (egress) the flux begins to increase, once again reaching the pre-transit flux of one.
The duration of the minimum flux (i.e. when the planet is transiting across the face of the star) can tell us information about the distance between planet & star. How fast the planet is moving around the star (i.e. its orbital period) and also give the opportunity (with the correct equipment) to gather a spectra of the exoplanets atmosphere, though that is currently beyond the scope of the project.
The next important challenge that I face for this project are more out of my control. The first is transit time. When the planet will actually transit the face of the star. Obviously, this has to be at a point when it is A) Dark in the UK, and B) observable in the Northern Hemisphere. This limits the number of targets greatly, but does not rule out the project completely. The NASA Exoplanet Archive (The button at the top of this page) has a great calculating spreadsheet which allows you to figure out which targets are ideal for your observing location and times.
The next physical challenge is the exoplanets orbital inclination. If the planet passes directly across the centre of the stellar disc as observed from earth, this makes the transit light curve very obvious. If the planet has an orbit which is inclined above or below the centre of view (as seen from Earth) this can alter the light curve, making the depth of the curve much shallower. Its this that can then make observations for small telescopes far more tricky.
These factors have been what I have worked from to select a preliminary lists of targets, & once I've resolved some of the other issues, these will be the first to be observed.
Until now, the science of exoplanet detection has been the domain of the professional, with equipment that was paid for by a conglomerate of countries. It is a fairly recent thing that amateurs have attempted to do exoplanet detection. The famous planet hunting space telescope Kepler has confirmed detections of several hundred exoplanets, and it is this which I will be using as a primer for my own work down the line.
As I mentioned earlier, the telescope has a very long focal length (of about 3m) which makes pulling an image to focus on the CCD a real challenge. its taken a number of nights of head scratching and 'going back to the drawing board' to get a first image.
From this point, I intend to refine the exposure of the CCD, and to attempt basic photometry, on some variable stars as another preliminary activity, before moving on to the exoplanet work.
It is my intention to report on this as time goes on.