Monday, March 28, 2011

SDSS Telescope Getting Ready to Observe (on YouTube)

In most of my research, I use data taken by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. In the last few months I have been particularly focussed on looking at the morphologies of galaxies which are being observed as part of the ongoing Baryon Oscillation Sky Survey (or BOSS). This survey is in the process of taking spectra (to measure redshifts) of 1.5 million distant galaxies. I've just been looking at a small fraction of them which have high resolution images taken by the Hubble Space Telecope. I promise a post about that work once I submit the paper. :)

Anyway, the BOSS collaboration had a science meeting in New Mexico last week. Unfortunately I couldn't go. I phoned in to give a talk about my work, which was great, but I was still disappointed to not be physically present because the meeting included a trip to visit the actual telescope used to take all the SDSS data (both the images and spectra).

 I love telescope, particularly as the sun sets and they prepare to observe. Usually they are so peaceful and full of hope at that time of night. Who knows what they'll discover as they work hard during the darkness.

So you can imagine, I was delighted to learn that a video had been taken of the visit, and put up on YouTube. You can see lots of scientists getting in the way of the telescope operators as they prepare the telescope for a night's observing (so not as peaceful as normal!). It's all set to nice classical music, and ending with a beautiful sunset.

Watch out for the "BOSS plates" going in. These are big metal plates (a couple of metres across) which have holes drilled in them. Fibres are connected to each hole, and the plate carefully lined, so the light from a single galaxy goes down each hole. That's how SDSS can take so many spectra - hundreds are taken at once using this method.

Also watch out for the building moving off the telescope. Instead of a classic dome with an opening, or even a building with a removable roof, the SDSS telescope is covered during the day by a building which is rolled completely off the telescope at night.

To learn more about SDSS3 and BOSS you can follow the SDSS3 Blog.

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