Wednesday, January 30, 2013

siding spring obs fires: clean up begins

i'm pleased to report mostly good news from siding spring observatory (SSO), two and a half weeks after the wambelong fire swept though the area

authorized SSO staff were allowed to return to the mountain on tuesday to begin the telescope and  instrument assessments.  this was after an arborist team removed over 100 hazardous trees at site and along the winding road leading up to the observatory.  

cleaning is almost finished in the building that houses the 4 meter anglo-australian telescope (AAT)!   the elevator (the only elevatory within a 200 km radius) is not working, but should be fixed tomorrow.  the primary mirror will be inspected tomorrow and reflectivity tested before its cleanup begins. 

as for AAT instrumentation, the big dog (for my work at least) is the 2dF (two degree field) robot at the prime focus of the telescope, and the spectrograph it feeds, AAOmega, which lives two floors below, in the hollows of the building.   both systems have been initiated and flat fields and arc frames have been successfully collected! 

UCLES, the high resolution echelle spectrograph, has been tested and appears to be working fine. 

the UK schmid telescope was being tested today, but i have not heard any updates from there.

so overall, very good news, and clean up efforts are all on target to have the observatory up and running by the predicted date of 18th feb.   the remaining unknown is when the site will be deemed safe for visiting astronomers to return.   the buildings that were destroyed are blocked off by fences due to asbestos.   also, some arrangements will have to be made to house the astronomers and engineers when they are on the mountain to observe, but details of those plans are not yet set.

staff at site sound positive despite the intense work.  we could not be more grateful for their efforts!   especially this guy, shown here talking to prime minister, julia gillard, at site the week after the fire.  thank you, doug et al!

Doug Gray with Julia Gillard (Credit: Neville Legg)

PM Julia Gillard talks to SSO staff (Credit: Neville Legg)

Damage from the fire (Credit: Chris Ramage)

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