FIRST@LICK: Setting up the prototype

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On July 14 (Bastille day), shortly after we received the crates, Guy Perrin, astronomer at the Observatoire de Paris and Elsa Huby, a graduate student at the observatoire de Paris, arrived  the first time at the Lick Observatory. The picture below was taking as they were climbing the stairs of the Shane telescope building at their arrival during the sunset. An important event not as “glamorous”  than the climbing of the stairs of the famous Cannes festival but definitely more important for a lot of us… :-)

Guy Perrin and Elsa Huby as they arrived at Lick Observatory on July 14 2010

Guy Perrin and Elsa Huby as they arrived at Lick Observatory on July 14 2010

Guy and Elsa arrived 10 days before our run to prepare  FIRST instrument for its first light. Elsa just finished her engineering  studies in optics at the prestigious Institut d’Optique de Paris, she will start her French Doctorate soon at the Observatoire de Paris under the supervision of Guy. Because of her expertise in optics she quickly learned and improved the FIRST prototype to prepare it for the run.

The prototype being set ut at Lick.

Element of the FIRST optical setup

As usual in this kind of observing and technical run, they had to improvise. A large part of their first days was spent in cleaning up the room, making it as dark as possible, reorganizing it to access to power supply, and to be able to support the optical table. It could not be possible without the help and the commitment of the Lick Observatory staff. Thanks!

You can see on the picture on the left (taken on July 15) the progress they already made. The barrels shipped from France contained a large and heavy optical bench (130 x 70 cm, 120 kg), optical elements, motors, detectors, material for alignment, and so on… The prototype here is not aligned yet.

Since two people were at the mountain, they divided the tasks. Elodie led the alignment of the prototype and Guy dealt with making sure that FIRST can be set up on the telescope to see the light of stars. It should be mentioned that being an astronomer does not imply that you ONLY spend hours in front of his computer making simulations or observe comfortably in a warm control room. For those who has interest in building instrument, you may need additional skills. For instance Guy spent a significant amount of his time building mounts for parts of the electronics and optics in the machine shop of the observatory.

Guy Perrin building a support  at the machine shop for FIRST@LICK

Guy Perrin building a support at the machine shop for FIRST@LICK

Elsa in front of FIRST prototype at Lick

Elsa Huby aligning the FIRST prototype at Lick Observatory

Being at the top of the mountain focusing on a project like this one also implies that my colleagues don’t have much time to enjoy the place. They however had the opportunity to us the Great 36-inch Refractor to watch the heavens.

Lick Observatory is an interesting site with a fascinating history and I encourage you to come and visit it. If you don’t like the magnificent view, you could also watch astronomers working during the day inside the dome of the  Shane-3m telescope.

View from the Shane telescope at the Lick Observatory (credit: T. Kotani)

View from the Shane telescope at the Lick Observatory (credit: T. Kotani)

About Franck Marchis

Dr. Franck Marchis is a Senior Researcher and Chair of the Exoplanet Group at the Carl Sagan Center of the SETI Institute since July 2007. Over the past 19 years, he has dedicated his research to the study of our solar system, specifically the search for asteroids with moons, using mainly ground-based telescopes equipped with adaptive optics. More recently, he has been also involved in the definition of new generation of AOs for 8 -10 m class telescopes and future Extremely Large Telescopes. He has developed algorithms to process and enhance the quality of images, both astronomical and biological. His currently involved in the Gemini Planet Imager Exoplanet Survey, which consists in imaging exoplanets using an extreme AO system for the Gemini South telescope. This new instrument is capable of imaging and recording spectra of young Jupiter-like exoplanets orbiting around nearby stars.

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