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Proceedings Paper

Ukpik: testbed for a miniaturized robotic astronomical observatory on a high Arctic mountain
Author(s): Eric Steinbring; Brian Leckie; Tim Hardy; Kris Caputa; Murray Fletcher
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Paper Abstract

Mountains along the northwestern coast of Ellesmere Island, Canada, possess the highest peaks nearest the Pole. This geography, combined with an atmospheric thermal inversion restricted to below ~1000 m during much of the long arctic night, provides excellent opportunities for uninterrupted cloud-free astronomy - provided the challenges of these incredibly remote locations can be overcome. We present a miniaturized robotic observatory for deployment on a High Arctic mountaintop. This system tested the operability of precise optical instruments during winter, and the logistics of installation and maintenance during summer. It is called Ukpik after the Inuktitut name for the snowy owl, and was deployed at two sites accessible only by helicopter, each north of 82 degrees latitude; one on rock at 1100 m elevation and another on a glacier at 1600 m. The instrument suite included at first an all-sky-viewing camera, with the later addition of a small telescope to monitor Polaris, both protected by a retractable weather-proof enclosure. Expanding this to include a narrow-field drift-scanning camera for studying extra-solar planet transits was also investigated, but not implemented. An unique restriction was that all had to be run on batteries recharged primarily by a wind turbine. Supplementary power came from a methanol fuel-cell electrical generator. Communications were via the Iridium satellite network. The system design, and lessons learned from three years of operation are discussed, along with prospects for time-domain astronomy from isolated, high-elevation polar mountaintops.

Paper Details

Date Published: 17 September 2012
PDF: 12 pages
Proc. SPIE 8444, Ground-based and Airborne Telescopes IV, 84441P (17 September 2012); doi: 10.1117/12.926598
Show Author Affiliations
Eric Steinbring, National Research Council Canada (Canada)
Brian Leckie, National Research Council Canada (Canada)
Tim Hardy, National Research Council Canada (Canada)
Kris Caputa, National Research Council Canada (Canada)
Murray Fletcher, National Research Council Canada (Canada)


Published in SPIE Proceedings Vol. 8444:
Ground-based and Airborne Telescopes IV
Larry M. Stepp; Roberto Gilmozzi; Helen J. Hall, Editor(s)

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