A typical day at Keck

By Phil Plait | February 15, 2012 1:03 pm

It’s been a while since I’ve spent a whole day at an observatory, slaving away to catch a few photons from some distant object. Maybe if it had been as awesomely cool as depicted in this video of the Keck observatory by Andrew Cooper (and dedicated to the summit day crew), I’d still be doing research instead of writing about it!

How fun! All the action is documented on the Vimeo page for the video so you can figure out what you’re seeing. I love the lasers — Keck, Defender of Planet Earth!

Also, I love the music. Very Rube Goldbergy/Pee Wee Hermanesque.


Comments (18)

  1. KaneHau

    Aloha from Subaru Observatory (the left-most ‘dome’ in the pictures above).

    We’d love for you to take a Hawaii vacation out here Phil!

  2. John O'Meara

    I’ve had the great privilege of observing with Keck for nearly 15 years now, and it’s still a thrill to see what goes on during the day there. Most astronomers at Keck never go to the summit (we observe from Keck HQ in Waimea or on the mainland over the internet) so it’s really very useful to see videos like this, especially picking out the folks in the video that you go have a beer with after the observing is done.

    Awesome vid, and an awesome day crew!

  3. MadScientist

    Just when I get away from the city lights those sodium lasers ruin my view.

    I envy my colleagues who get to travel to Mauna Kea every now and then. Oh well, maybe I’ll get involved in astronomical instrumentation again one day …

  4. Chris

    I was thinking this was going to be yet another timelapse. But this was really worth watching.

  5. Georg

    how long does the reflecting layer (aluminium I suppose) of
    such a big telescope last?
    What when the quality is too bad? Is the mirror shipped somewhere
    for a new coating, or is that done on site?
    Do they have vacuum chambers that big?

  6. The aluminum coating lasts about two years. Nice part about a segmented design is that we can remove one segment at a time (as seen in the video) during a daytime operation without closing down the telescope for a few weeks. There is a set of spare segments, allowing us swap them in and out on one operation, we usually do two or three at a time.

    The segments are 1.7m (6ft) across, not to difficult to handle. The re-coating facility is along the hall between the two telescopes. A 2m vacuum chamber is all we need for any of our optics at Keck. You should see the 8m chamber at Gemini to accommodate the one-piece mirror, now that is a big vacuum chamber.

  7. Timbert

    To answer Georg’s questions.

    At Keck, the segments are rotated in and out about once every three years. There is an on-site aluminizing chamber custom built to handle the optics. Because of the segmented design at Keck, the chamber really isn’t that big, about two meters across.

    Monolithic large telescopes re-coat the optics in-place (LBTO) or move them to a nearby facility (VLT).

  8. AliCali

    This is all amazing. I get to visit Mt. Wilson’s 100″ telescope frequently, which started using an aluminum coating in 1925 (if memory serves). A vacuum bell jar was invented to remove the old aluminum and lay down the new coat, and I imagine that must’ve been the biggest in the world at the time. Now there’s an 8m chamber?

    I imagine how much has changed, and how much is now so routine, from the time the 100″ first came online in 1918.

    My wife wanted to visit Hawaii. I was hesitant because of cost, so now she talks about visiting Mauna Kea’s telescopes. She knows how to get me to agree. I hope to visit that site in the next few years and see the wonderful instruments up close.

  9. Messier Tidy Upper

    What an office! What a great job! What a fun clip. ūüėÄ

  10. Ganzy

    That’s a great video! AliCali you should go there, Mauna Kea is such a cool place both thermally and geologicaly :) I thought I had a decent sense of how big the telescope was from the images I had seen of it. But I was gobsmacked when I walked through the door and was hit by the sheer size of it. I just stood there gawping at it for a few moments to let my brain soak it all in. I remember two facts about the scope that the guy who showed us around told us. That it weighed 280 tons and that it floated on a millimetre of oil! It is an exquisite piece of engineering.

    In the evening me and my wife were lucky enough to get our first look at Saturn through an orange celestron 10″ scope that a guy had gotten set up for people to have a look through. I remember it was truly spell-binding.

    Hey up there M! :)

  11. VinceRN

    This show one of the main reasons I like this blog. A post about Keck, and people from Keck chime in.

  12. Nigel Depledge

    The BA said:

    Keck, Defender of Planet Earth!

    They’re our first, best, last and only line of defence against the worst scum of the universe . . .


  13. Dr_cy_coe

    Gotta disagree on the music. If there ever was a missed opportunity for using the Benny Hill theme tune, it’s this one. :)

  14. JayDenver

    Great video. The soundtrack by Kevin MacLeod called Cannery is freely available under Creative Common licensing.

    From the Creative Commons website:

    Kevin MacLeod from Green Bay Wisconsin who works mostly in New York City is a composer that creates music that is meant to be put to movies, his site Incompetech.com has been around since 1996, he started putting music on his site around 2005. His site has around 800 pieces of music on it.

    ‚ÄúThe point of making music is to affect other people, and if you make music and just stick it in a closet and hope that someone will come someday looking for it – that is not going to happen, you need to it to be heard by as many people as possible.‚ÄĚ

    Thanks, Phil, you brought joy to my morning.

  15. You missed the best part: the word “milk” written on the hand of the opening typist. Even geeky science typs have to scribble shopping lists on their skin …

  16. Sorry Dr_cy_coe, but I think the music track was perfect. Just the right mix of frenetic energy for the time lapse segments and quite segments for sunset & sunrise. I’ve always spent a great deal of time listening to music selections before choosing which one to use in an edit. It’s time well spent!

    Besides that, the Benny Hill theme is certainly copyrighted and would cost more to license.

  17. Steve

    Gorgeous! Wish I could manage a trip to Hawaii, and an invitation to the summit.

  18. Calli Arcale

    That was really cool, showing not only what it does (observing the heavens) but the inner workings of how it does it. Very, very cool. And seeing the VxWorks splash screen come up . . . I’ve never worked on a telescope (bigger than my puny 130mm Newtonian anyway), but that part at least was familiar. ūüėČ


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