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SPIE Astronomical Telescopes + Instrumentation 2014 news and photos


Bonjour, hello! Follow events of SPIE Astronomical Telescopes + Instrumentation 2014 here:


SPIE Astronomical Telescopes + Instrumentation poster session

Friday 27 June

Full week indeed!

Thursday 26 June

An exhibition like no other

Final plenary talks of the week

Hyper Suprime-Cam: understanding dark energy

TESS and exoplanet discovery

Software Hack Day: going creative

Thursday's edition: exhibition and poster reception

Wednesday 25 June

Exhibition is open -- and abuzz!

MUSE: imaging and analysis

Canada's space programs: past, present, future

Eyes on the sky

Tuesday 24 June

First up: new Fellows

Gaia: mapping the galaxy

A taste of ALMA data

Pan-STARRS in action

'Quest for life outside the solar system'

Monday 23 June


JWST on road to launch

SKA: from discovery to understanding

Students and experts

Sunday 22 June

News of major missions

Monitoring space debris

Coffee, everyone?

Posters on display

New titles, popular resources, and gifts


Friday 27 June


Full week indeed!

SPIE Astronomical Telescopes + Instrumentation 2014

Total attendance was approaching 2,400 as the week drew to an end, and speakers continued to draw large audiences including the standing-room-only crowd in this conference room (above).

Organizers already are looking ahead to next time: SPIE Astronomical Telescopes and Instrumentation 2016 will run 26 June through 1 July in Edinburgh, led by symposium chairs Colin Cunningham (UK Astronomy Technology Centre) and Masanori Iye (National Astronomical Observatory of Japan).


Thursday 26 June


An exhibition like no other

The dense concentration of its large-astronomy-telescope audience makes the Astronomical Telecopes and Instrumentation Exhibition a unique opportunity to meet with new and longtime collaborators and customers, say visitors and company representatives alike. This year's version was no exception, with exhibitors reporting high satisfaction with the event. As Jim Arns of Kaiser Optical Systems put it, "We are very pleased. I am skeptical that we sat down for much more than 10 minutes on Wednesday." (Below, a sample of a grating made by Kaiser for the HERMES project; see the event photo gallery for more photos from the booths.)

Kaiser grating for Hermes


Final plenary talks of the week

Symposium co-chair Masanori Iye of the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan introduced the last two plenary speakers of the week on Thursday morning. Iye and Colin Cunningham of the UK Astronomy Technology Centre will serve as symposium chairs for SPIE Astronomical Telescopes and instrumentation in 2016 (below, a slide from the Hyer Suprime-Cam in the plenary room; see more photos in the event photo gallery).

Hyper Suprime-Cam plenary talk image


Hyper Suprime-Cam: understanding dark energy

Satoshi Miyazaki plenary talk
Satoshi Miyazaki

The realization that the expansion of the universe is accelerating and not decelerating as had been the traditional model heightened interest in the astronomical community of the cosmological constant and the nature of dark energy.

In Thursday's first plenary talk, "Hyper Suprime-Cam," Satoshi Miyazaki of the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan discussed the design, commissioning, and early results of the Hyper Suprime-Cam (HSC). The new instrument is designed to enhance the observation and mapping of the universe for the study the evolution of large-scale structures, to further our understanding of dark energy. HSC, a 1-gigapixel camera weighing 3 tons and standing 3 meters tall, replaces the Suprime-Cam on the 8.2m Subaru telescope.

Miyazaki explained that the instrument consists of three primary components including the camera, a wide field corrector (WFC), and a prime focus unit (PFU) which is the chassis holding the camera and the WFC and to which the filter exchange units are mounted.

The WFC consists of a triplet, a lateral shift corrector, and a chromatic aberration compensator and is critical to reducing image smearing. At the HSC focal plane are 116 CCDs mounted with a peak-to-valley coplanarity of approximately 35µm. Assembly of the unit began in 2006 followed by installation and first light observation in 2012.

Initial results from the HSC for stellar size demonstrated resolution of 0.41 arcsec (FWHM) at best focus and CCD coplanarity of less than 50µm. Image smearing was larger than expected and analysis indicates that most of this can be attributed to optics misalignment.

Data obtained to date supports the use of gravitational lensing and galaxy shearing observations to estimate dark matter distribution.

Miyazaki's team is in the early phases of a program entailing 300 observation nights over a five-year period to map 1400 deg2 of the sky. This data is certain to further our understanding of dark energy and heighten our knowledge of the expanding universe.


TESS and exoplanet discovery

George Ricker
George Ricker

Discovering transiting earths and super-earths orbiting bright, nearby stars is the goal of the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) explained George Ricker of MIT in Thursday's second plenary presentation, "Discovering New Earths and Super-Earths in the Solar Neighborhood."

TESS is a collaboration between MIT, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, and Orbital Science Corporation with contributions from NASA Ames, Lincoln Labs, SAO, and STScI.

Scheduled for launch in 2017, the program expects to find the best nearby exoplanets as determined by their presence near bright stars and the ability to measure their masses and study their atmospheres. The study hopes to refine work previously done by such instruments as the Kepler satellite by increasing the solid angle coverage of the sky and focus on stars closer to earth than did its predecessors.

The primary instrumentation on TESS are four 105mm aperture CCD cameras with a 600-1000nm bandpass. Each camera has a field-of-view of 24˚x24˚ and weighs 10kg. Frame times are 2 seconds.

After launch, the satellite will establish an initial orbit and then do a lunar fly-by designed to enable TESS to settle into a highly stable orbit in 2:1 resonance and 90˚ phasing with the lunar orbit.

The resulting orbit provides TESS with a largely uninterrupted view of the universe to enhance its likelihood of successful observation during its two-year mission.

It also enables data rate transfers as high as 100Mbit/second. TESS researchers expect to release their newest data to the public once every four months after launch.

Once launched, TESS will greatly expand our knowledge of planets in the habitable zone. More importantly, it should allow astronomers to identify the most promising candidates for future studies with such instruments as the James Webb Space Telescope, the topic of a plenary talk in Monday's session, and the next generation of large telescopes. This insures that the legacy of TESS will extend beyond its mission and enable important discoveries for years to come.


Software Hack Day: going creative

A roomful of decidedly creative developers participated in the event's inaugural Software Hack Day, innovating their way to a wide range of new applications. Apps ranged from what Michael Lacasse of Lowell Observatory characterized as a "fun and ridiculous" six-degrees-of-separation game [replicating a path following six links to get from, say, "pickles" to "Star Trek episode 'Broken Bow' "], to a team-built "dating site" for telescopes presented by Steven Crawford (Southern African Astronomical Observatory) that enables comparisons of various attributes between two of the user's selections from among major telescopes around the world.

The event is associated with the conference on Software and Cyberinfrastructure for Astronomy, and a proceedings paper summarizing the day will be prepared for the conference proceedings, said organizers Sarah Kendrew (Oxford University) and Casey Deen (Max-Planck-Institut für Astronomie). Below, two of the participants present their hacks at the end of the day:

Michael Lacasse Casey Deen
Michael Lacasse Casey Deen


Thursday's edition: exhibition and poster reception

The week's special events wrapped up with a second exhibition/poster session, giving attendees one more opportunity to share their work, talk about their products, and make connections over refreshments.

exhibition and poster reception


Wednesday 25 June


Exhibition is open -- and abuzz!

As of this morning, more than 100 of the community's suppliers and system developers are displaying devices, components, instruments, and systems in the exhibition hall. The show opened this morning to a steady stream of visitors and runs through tomorrow, with exhibition/poster receptions scheduled both days from 6 to 8 p.m. (See more photos in the event photo gallery.)

SPIE Astronomical Telescopes + Instrumentation exhibition


MUSE: imaging and analysis

Roland Bacon
Roland Bacon

A unique instrument coupling the discovery potential of an imaging system with the analysis capability of a high-performance spectroscope was the subject of Wednesday morning's first plenary talk, "MUSE: A New Powerful Integral Field Unit for the VLT," delivered by Roland Bacon of the Observatoire de Lyon and the MUSE Consortium.

MUSE -- the Multi-Unit Spectroscopic Explorer -- is a second-generation panoramic integral field spectrograph recently installed on the Nasmyth platform at UT4 in Chile culminating a 14-year development program which began in 2001 with an ESO call for ideas.

Making use of adaptive optics for correction, the system utilizes 24 field splitters to separate the field of view into 24 subfields subsequently fed through a series of optical elements including an image slicer serving as an entrance slit into spectrographs.

MUSE can operate in both a wide viewing mode with a 1x1 arcmin2 field of view and a narrow viewing mode with a 7.5x7.5 arcsec2. A wavelength range of 4650-9300Å is accessible in a single run.

Bacon detailed the history of the project from the initial ESO call through the October 2013 delivery of the instrument to Paranal to first-light observation on 31 January 2014.

Two commissioning runs, one in February and one in late April through early May, followed.

The instrument has demonstrated performance with such metrics as R=1500-3500, IQ=0.2 arcsec limited by sampling, and throughput efficiencies of 55% at 700nm and 35% when including the whole of the VLT.

A number of early results were shared that illustrated the capability and potential of the instrument. A large image mapping -- 6x5 arcmin2 -- of the Orion Nebula done while collecting 5 million spectra demonstrated the dual imaging and analysis capability.

Other data highlighted the importance of throughput allowing astronomers to detect an AB 23.5 object during a one hour exposure cycle.

Perhaps the most spectacular result was the imaging of planetary nebula NCG 4361 where MUSE was able to detect the presence of a galaxy and details of the gas dynamics behind the nebula.

Looking forward, enhancements to both wide-field and narrow-field viewing are being planned to further improve the quality of data collected. The exciting results achieved to date point to the potential of MUSE to provide astronomers with a wealth of new data for years to come.


Canada's space programs: past, present, future

John Hutchings
John Hutchings

In Wednesday's second plenary talk, John Hutchings of NRC-Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics outlined "Canadian Space Astronomy: Past, Present and Future."

Prior to the formation of the CSA in 1989, Canada had begun its space efforts in 1961 with the launch of the initial Black Brant rocket. In 1972, Canada was the first country to establish a geostationary commissioned satellite with AnikA-1. The astronaut program actually began in 1983, six years prior to the formal establishment of the CSA.

Since the CSA has no launch capability of its own, it participates in international programs as a partner at a roughly 5% level, contributing a range of hardware and data analysis capability to a variety of programs. Budgets of 10-15 million Canadian dollars per year are typical funding levels. The agency is also active in microsatellites and its decadal plan places a focus on work in dark energy.

Several programs the agency has participated in include FUSE (Far UV Spectroscopic Explorer) which flew from 1999-2008 while collecting 25,000 spectra through the Lyman series, and the Herschel Space Observatory.

Canada's first space telescope, MOST, a microsatellite with the mission of finding and exploring exoplanets was launched in 2003 and will conclude its mission this fall.

A nanosatellite program, BRITE Constellation, is now underway with four of six planned satellites in orbit and plans to observe surface vibrations on stars to learn more about the seismic activity driven by their internal dynamics.

Looking ahead, the agency is actively engaged in building detectors for the ASTROSAT program with India and providing guidance cameras and the NIRISS instrument for the James Webb Space Telescope.

CASTOR, a proposed wide-field UV imaging telescope is also under consideration and would represent a significant step forward in terms of program scope and magnitude for the CSA.

Recent budgetary measures have impacted the space program in Canada but one hopes that progress on programs such as these will not only capture the public's imagination while providing high quality data for the astronomical community but also enable policy makers to more fully understand the value of such scientific exploration.


Eyes on the sky

Cees Kole, Ramon Navarro, Phillip Stahl

Dutch Ambassador to Canada Cees Kole (above left, with Ramon Navarro of NOVA-ASTRON and SPIE President Phillip Stahl) was among the many who toured Wednesday evening's exhibition/poster reception. At the "Dutch Eyes on the Sky" pavilion, Kole and Stahl saw a demonstration by Navarro and Frans Snik (Leiden Observatory) of a new NOVA iPhone accessory that enables crowd-sourced measurement of air quality (below, Stahl tries out the device.)

Phillip Stahl


Wilhelm Kaenders, Wallace Clements

At the MPB Communications booth, Toptica reported that two of four new solid-state laser guide stars for the Very Large Telescope have shipped with two others to be delivered shortly, and installation in Pranal is scheduled early next year. Hawaii's Keck telescope has also ordered one of the systems, which should be ready to ship within a couple of months. The lasers were built by Toptica in collaboration with Canada's MPB Communications (above, Toptica's Wilhelm Kaenders [left] and MPB's Wallace Clements).


More photos are in the event photo gallery.


Tuesday 24 June


First up: new Fellows

Gillian Wright
Gillian Wright

Tuesday's opening session began with the presentation of three new Fellows of SPIE by SPIE President Phillip Stahl: Mark Clampin, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center; Gary Matthews, Exelis Inc.; and Larry Stepp, Thirty Meter Telescope Observatory Corp. (See photos in the event photo gallery.)

As on Monday morning, an audience of more than 1,200 gathered to hear speakers on two major projects. Plenary speakers were introduced by Gillian Wright, UK Astronomy Technology Centre, who is this year's symposium chair along with Luc Simar, National Research Council Canada.


Gaia: mapping the galaxy

Deepening our understanding of the structure and dynamics of the galaxy is a key scientific driver of the Gaia program, explained Timo Prusti of the European Space Agency in Tuesday's first plenary talk, "Gaia: Scientific In-Orbit Performance."

Timo Prusti
Timo Prusti

This billion-star surveyor following the Hipparcos heritage was launched in December 2013. When commissioned in July 2014, Gaia will enable studies of astronomy, photometry and spectroscopy over a five year period.

Prusti explained that a two-telescope arrangement will facilitate wide-field observation. At the focal plane, 106 CCDs are used to map the sky and allow tracking of the brightest stars for photometry and spectrometry studies.

In addition to probing the structure of the galaxy, Gaia will be used in studies of stellar astrophysics, binary and multiple star systems, brown dwarfs, quasars, and fundamental physics.

After launch on 19 December, Gaia went through a series of early phase tests, sunshield deployment, payload decontamination, and a pair of L2 burns in January 2014.

Since then, the telescope has captured first-light images, verified the performance of various operations subsystems such as the micro-propulsion unit, the phased array antenna, and the CCDs, and verified initial functionality of the photometry and spectrometry instrumentation.

Several challenges have arisen requiring resolution, including the presence of stray sunlight from an unknown path, transmission loss due to frost contamination on mirrors, and basic angle variation being larger than expected. Work is underway to address these concerns.

Once commissioned, the initial data report from the project will be available in the summer of 2016.

The combination of astrometry, photometry, and spectrometry accessible with Gaia should greatly increase our understanding of the stars being studied. The Gaia telescope provides astronomers with another unique piece of instrumentation surely destined to alter our understanding of the universe.


A taste of ALMA data

Pierre Cox
Pierre Cox

Located 5,000 meters above sea level in northern Chile, the ALMA (Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimeter Array) telescope is designed to collect and deliver high-quality data in the millimeter and submillimeter wavelength range.

In Tuesday's second plenary presentation, "ALMA Update," Pierre Cox of the Joint ALMA Observatory explained that the installation was placed at high altitude in the Atacama Desert to reduce blocking of submillimeter light by atmospheric water vapor. The project is an international partnership of European, North American, and Eastern Asian organizations in cooperation with the government of Chile.

The observatory will operate over the millimeter/submillimeter to 1THz wavelength range and consists of 66 antennas, 54 with 12-meter diameter dishes and 12 with a 7-meter diameter dishes. Three different antenna manufacturers are contributing to the program, and construction of the site will be completed in September 2014.

All 66 antennas have been accepted and 54 of these will be available for scientific studies. Receiver bands at 3mm, 1mm, 850µm, and 450µm are operational while equipment for those bands at 2mm, 650µm, and 350µm is partially installed.

Cycle 2 of the observatory runs from June 2014 through October 2015. Over one thousand proposals - 1,384 to be exact - were received for Cycle 2; 353 of these were rated "A" or "B" and are expected to receive time at the observatory during this phase of operation.

To date, approximately 100 papers have been produced from work at ALMA, a number sure to increase dramatically as the site adds new bands, improves existing bands, and completes an optical fiber project to connect the operations facility to Santiago.

ALMA is expected to provide astronomers with insights into the origins of the universe, the formation of stars and galaxies, and the chemistries of complex clouds of gases and dust.

Cox provided the audience with a taste of the transformational science ALMA will enable sharing early results on comets, protoplanetary disks, debris disks, gamma ray bursts and astrochemistry. Based on these results, the promise of future discoveries is certain to excite the astronomical community and the general public as well as ALMA helps to deepen our understanding of the world around us.


Pan-STARRS in action

Eleven conferences were in full swing as of Tuesday morning.

Among the presentations, Jeffrey Morgan of the University of Hawaii presented on the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System (Pan-STARRS) project, which consists of two telescopes positioned next to each other on Haleakala in Hawaii.

The first telescope, a prototype designated PS1, has been operational for over three years and has already obtained complete sky coverage in multiple passband filters and epochs. The telescopes have wide-field optics, with a 3.3-degree diameter FOV and a 1.8-m primary mirror. The optical system includes 2 mirrors and 3 corrector lenses, multiple filters, a two-blade camera shutter, and a unique 1.44 gigapixel camera. The camera uses 60 "orthogonal transfer arrays" (OTAs), which, Morgan described, are specialized CCDs that allow read out in more than one direction. Each OTA is divided into 64 cells, each of which hold about 600 by 600 pixels.

Morgan summarized the surveys already accomplished by PS1, including a full-sky survey with grizY filters, the Medium Deep survey (where a good amount of supernovae data comes from), an asteroid survey, and a survey of dithered pattern exposures centered on the Andromeda galaxy.

From the PS1 survey data, Morgan reported that many science papers have emerged, and the rate of papers from the data is accelerating. Exciting discoveries that Morgan referenced include about 40 comets, 2000 RR Lyrae stars, over 800 near-Earth objects, 3 dwarf companion galaxies to Andromeda, and a star being swallowed by a black hole.

Noting that PS1 is additionally detecting and monitoring over 8,000 supernovae, including a new type of superluminous supernovae, Morgan pointed out the lack of time to follow up on all the data, as the data of only about 150 supernovae are currently being considered in current cosmology. So, he said, there is much more going on with supernovae than we now knMorgan summed up by describing several changes being incorporated in the second telescope, PS2, which is currently mounted and undergoing collimation and alignment, discovering its first asteroid just a few days ago.


'Quest for life outside the solar system'

René Doyon

When it comes to the quest for life outside our solar system, "science fiction is finally merging with reality," dinner presenter René Doyon told attendees at the all-conference dinner Tuesday evening.

Doyon is a professor in the physics department at the Université de Montréal and Director of the Mont-Mégantic Observatory. His scientific interests focus on the search and study of exoplanets and young stars, and the development of infrared astronomical instrumentation.

He and his students led the development of differential imaging techniques that contributed to obtaining the first images of a multiple planetary system outside our solar system in 2008.

He is principal investigator of FGS/NIRISS, the Canadian-built science instrument onboard the James Webb Space Telescope, co-investigator of the Gemini Planet Imager, and co-PI of SPIRou, an instrument optimized for the detection of Earth-like planets through infrared precision radial velocity.

Tuesday evening, Doyon gave an overview of various methods being employed to find Earth-like planets, noting that more than a thousand exoplanets have been confirmed so far through missions such as the Hubble and Kepler.

He stressed the important role of applications of light-based technologies such as adaptive optics and photon counting in in the search, and outlined a vision for future progress, with new systems such as the JWST and ESA's TESS expanding the capabilities for detection even further.

"I don't know where we will be in ten years, but these are very exciting times," he said.

Symposium chair Luc Simard of the National Research Council concurred, noting that astronomy in general and the search for exoplanets in particular inspire enthusiasm for science among nonscientist adults as well as children. In his presentations to school classes, he said, students get very excited when he tells them they have the likelihood "of being the first generation with a good chance of discovering other life in the universe."

See more photos in the event photo gallery.


Monday 23 June



Luc Simard (below), National Research Council Canada, welcomed attendees to Montréal and to the first two of eight plenary talks to be presented during the week. Simard -- who has read every one of the approximately 2,100 abstracts for this week's presentations -- is symposium chair along with Gillian Wright of the UK Astronomy Technology Centre.

Luc Simard


JWST on road to launch

Mark Clampin, James Webb Space Telescope
Mark Clampin

The evolution from an idea first conceived at an SPIE meeting in the mid-'90s and captured on the back of a napkin to one of the most ambitious space telescope programs to date was the topic of Monday morning's first plenary presentation delivered by Mark Clampin of the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.

Clampin's presentation, entitled "James Webb Space Telescope: The Road to First Science Observations," traced the history of the program from conception through its current vision as a 6.5m IR, passively cooled space telescope with the goals of studying the first-light problem and reionisation, studying the assembly of galaxies, understanding the birth of stars and proto-planetary systems, and furthering our knowledge on planetary systems and the origins of life.

Clampin provided an update on the current status of the program beginning with the four primary instruments being deployed as part of the telescope.

The NIRCam is a 1.5µm band class field imaging system for use in first light studies. Follow-up studies in this area will be done with the multi-object spectrograph unit, NIRspec. Mid-IR imaging studies, in the 5-29µm range, will utilize the MIRI instrument. The FGS/NIRISS instrument will provide jitter correction in the images in addition to providing NIR imaging capability and studying transit behavior of bright objects.

All of these instruments have been built, assembled and installed in the ISIM structure at Goddard where they have been integrated with the electronics compartment and harness radiator for insertion into the SES (Space Environment Simulator) for the next round of studies.

Currently the SES is pumping down in the first phase of a several month initial test period; after SES testing, the assembly will undergo environmental testing (e.g. shock and vibration testing) after which it will be re-inserted into the SES for additional testing. In all, the assembly will undergo a year's worth of testing.

The heart of the observatory, the telescope, consists of 18 beryllium mirror segments, all of which have been delivered and are meeting requirements. The mirrors are currently being stored in a nitrogen environment to limit risk of contamination prior to integration. The flight backplane is expected to arrive in April 2015.

In the meantime, the Pathfinder unit, a second backplane assembly, is being used for testing telescope integration with secondary mirrors as well as for cryo-optical testing. The sunshields-an assembly of five are needed for proper cooling-are also undergoing testing.

Once fully assembled the telescope will undergo end-to-end testing at the Johnson Space Center in the chamber which once housed the Apollo space crafts during their testing.

The road to launch includes completing spacecraft manufacturing this year, integrating the telescope in 2015, assembling the observatory in 2016 and testing it beginning in 2017 followed by launch in 2018. Once launched, the deployment sequence will take 29 days. When operational, the roughly twenty year journey from concept to reality will be complete and will give way to a new journey of discovery certain to change our views of the universe.


SKA: from discovery to understanding

The 20th century was a time when we discovered our place in the universe. The 21st century is the time to more fully understand the universe and our place in it. This message opened Monday's second plenary presentation given by Philip Diamond of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA)  Organisation in his talk, "The SKA: A Physics Machine for the 21st Century."

Phillip Diamond, SKA Organisation
Phillip Diamond

The SKA will be one of the key contributors towards that goal. A multinational consortia from 11 nations are now working on this ambitious radio astronomy observatory currently with planned sites in South Africa and Australia.

The SKA will be focused both on deepening our understanding of fundamental forces and particles by enhancing our knowledge of gravity and magnetic forces and on furthering our understanding of the origins of the universe through studies of galaxies, the universe, stars, planets and the origins of life. Diamond highlighted two key areas of science in his talk.

The first was using pulsars to understand gravity. At present, approximately 2200 pulsars are known to exist; the SKA expects to greatly expand upon that number and to dramatically improve, potentially by a factor of 100, our timing precision of their characteristic periodic transmissions. A sufficient network of pulsars could then be used for studies designed to detect gravity waves passing across the universe.

The second area of focus was the use of the SKA for tomographic imaging of H1 for studies of the Cosmic Dawn and Epoch of Reionisation periods of the universe. Studying the redshifts in the 21cm hydrogen line will provide critical information on neutral gas in the universe and improve our understanding of the timeline of reionisation.

The SKA sites were chosen to minimize radio wave interference from man-made devices. Each site, the Karoo Radio Astronomy Reserve in South Africa and the Murchison Radio Astronomy Observatory in Australia, feature radio-quiet environments and SKA precursor telescopes-the MeerKAT in South Africa and ASKAP (Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder) in Australia.

Phase 1 of the project is expected to produce 10% of the overall collecting area and is targeted for construction during 2017-2023 with early science studies beginning in 2020. Phase 2 will add significant capability and is targeted to begin construction in 2023. When completed, the SKA should provide a wealth of data to help scientists better understand our place in the universe.


More photos are posted in the event photo gallery.


Gemini Planet Imager results

In the conference rooms ... on Monday morning, Bruce Macintosh of Stanford gave an invited talk on the Gemini Planet Imager (GPI), presenting its components, its first light results, lessons learned, and future plans.

He led the audience through GPI's high-order MEMS adaptive optics system, which has 1500 active actuators - some of which, he admitted, had gone bad, requiring masking to compensate.  He described GPI's apodized-pupil Lyot coronagraph, high-accuracy IR post-coronagraph wavefront sensor, and near-infrared integral field spectrograph. Additionally, he described GPI's new calibration techniques, which involve the use of an anti-aliasing spacial filter.

After telescope integration throughout October 2013, GPI saw first light on October 31, and worked nearly flawlessly out of the box.  Macintosh reported that they were immediately able to observe correction of atmospheric turbulence, a cause for great celebration by the team.  He then showed representative images of a planet orbiting Beta Pictoris B, white dwarf HD8049, and K-band polarimetry of Titan.

Future plans, he explained, include a final commissioning run in September 2014, some near-term optimization, and campaign operations beginning in November 2014 to image 600 stars in 3 years.


SOFIA: airborne and operational

Monday afternoon, Erick Young gave a detailed discussion of SOFIA, the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, a joint project between NASA and the German Aerospace Center DLR.

Flying in a highly modified 747-SP aircraft, SOFIA is the world's largest airborne telescope, with an effective aperture of 2.5-meters and optimization for observations in the 0.3-1600 micron range. The purpose for using a plane, Young said, is to get its suite of IR imagers and spectrometers above 99% of atmospheric water vapor.  At an installed weight of 17 metric tons, it includes FORCAST (a mid-IR camera), GREAT (a heterodyne spectrometer), FLITECAM (a near-IR camera), and HIPO (an occultation photometer), as well as 2 instruments new in 2014: FIFI-LS and EXES.

Now considered an official "operational mission" by NASA, SOFIA has flown 222 hours of general investigator science and 77 hours of commissioned observations; however, the project has has budget challenges this year, initially being slated for potential cancellation in 2015.  After concerted efforts advocating for SOFIA, it has now been included in both House and Senate Appropriations bills, due also to an overall increase in NASA's budget in the next cycle. Young reported that they are moving forward with plans for the plane to receive heavy maintenance in Hamburg, Germany and have a new call for proposals out.

Now in its third cycle of open time proposal solicitations to the world astronomical community, the current call for use during March 2015 to January 2016 offers up to 450 hours offered in the US call and 50 in the German call.  Young said that he was speaking here at SPIE Astronomy to let the community know about the call for proposals and to encourage large proposals (over 40 hours), for which they'd specifically earmarked 20% of the available time.


Students and experts

Student lunch with experts, SPIE Astronomical Telescopes and Instrumentation

A luncheon offered students the chance to meet and network with two dozen working professionals from industry, academia, and government labs. More photos are posted in the event photo gallery.

Student lunch with experts, SPIE Astronomical Telescopes and Instrumentation


Monday's posters

SPIE Astronomical Telescopes + Instrumentation 2014 poster session

Monday evening's poster session drew a large crowd, with posters on space telescopes, ground-based systems, and other topics. More photos are posted in the event photo gallery.


Welcome, inside and out

SPIE Astronomical Telescopes + Instrumentation welcome reception

The conference welcome reception provided a chance to enjoy the city from the seventh floor terrace (above) as well as from inside the Palais des congrès (below). More photos are posted in the event photo gallery.

SPIE Astronomical Telescopes + Instrumentation 2014 welcome reception


Sunday 22 June


News of major missions

Reports from major missions and projects were on the schedule in many of the eight conferences opening on Sunday morning.

Shane AO, Lick Observatory

A report on the Shane AO wide science spectrum AO system for the Lick Observatory (above) was among several papers giving status updates in the Adaptive Optics Systems conference. Other papers covered ESO AO facility progress and first laboratory test results, lessons learned in the Large Binocular Telescopes Interferometer Adaptive Optics project, and status and performance of the MagAO (Magellan adaptive optics) system (follow the link below to NASA Sagan Fellow Katie Morzinski's blog post for more).

Matthew Greenhouse, JWST overflow

An overflow crowd was on hand to hear James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) reports in the Space Telescopes and Instrumentation: Optical, Infrared, and Millimeter Wave conference; above, Matthew Greenhouse, NASA Goddard, reports on the status of the JWST telescope science instrument payload.


Monitoring space debris

Among new sessions this year was one Sunday afternoon on Telescopes to Image Orbiting Objects in the conference on Ground-based and Airborne Telescopes, featuring two papers from Lockheed Marin authors. Lockheed recently won a U.S. Department of Defense bid to build a space surveillance network designed to track and monitor orbital debris, which has the potential to disable satellites, threaten the lives of astronauts onboard the International Space Station (ISS), or fall to Earth.

In "Ground-based astronomical instrument for planetary protection," (9145-17), Richard Kendrick described a proposed ground-based observatory for use in understanding the size, shape, and chemical makeup of the various orbital debris components. The system would employ SiAs and HgCd sensors and use photometry, polarization, and spectroscopy.

Observation scenarios include a 4-meter telescope designed for long-wave infrared astronomy and currently operating on Mauna Kea. The project is a collaboration with the University of Arizona, University of Hawaii, and NASA.

In "Space Object Tracking (SPOT) facility," (9145-18), Robert Shivitz outlined the Space Object Tracking Facility (SPOT) at Lockheed's Santa Cruz test facility in Northern California. The SPOT facility consists of three 1-meter optical telescopes on movable platforms in a reconfigurable array enabling both individual simultaneous data collection with a variety instrument and sparse aperture interferometric imaging. Enhancements underway include adaptive optics, fiber coupling and active fringe tracking that will be coming on line from mid-2014 through late-2015.


Coffee, everyone?

coffee break at SPIE Astronomical Telescopes and Instrumentation, Montreal

The first coffee break of the week drew attendees out of the conference rooms for refreshments ...

coffee break at SPIE Astronomical Telescopes and Instrumentation, Montreal

... and networking! More photos are posted in the event photo gallery.


Posters on display

SPIE Astronomical Telescopes + Instrumentation 2014 poster session

The first of the week's poster sessions brought authors face-to-face with colleagues looking for more information about their work. See more photos in the event photo gallery.


New titles, popular resources, and gifts

SPIE Bookstore at SPIE Astronomical Telescopes and Instrumentation

Several new titles are on display along with many already popular tutorial texts, field guides, handbooks, and monographs as well as photonics-themed gifts at the SPIE Bookstore in the registration area. The Bookstore is open during registration hours throughout the week.

New titles at the Bookstore include:

  • Field Guide to Displacement Measuring Interferometry, Jonathan D. Ellis
  • Field Guide to Nonlinear Optics, Peter E. Powers
  • Field Guide to Polarization, Edward Collett
  • Laser Beam Quality Metrics, T. Sean Ross
  • Optical Imaging and Aberrations, Part III: Wavefront Analysis, Virendra N. Mahajan
  • Solid State Lasers: Tunable Sources and Passive Q-Switching Elements, Yehoshua Y. Kalisky
  • Stray Light Analysis and Control, Eric C. Fest
  • The Proper Care of Optics: Cleaning, Handling, Storage, and Shipping, Robert Schalck
  • Windowed Fringe Pattern Analysis, Qian Kemao


SPIE Astronomical Telescopes + Instrumentation

22-27 June 2014
Palais des congrès de Montréal

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Event photo gallery

Event website

On Twitter: #SPIEastro


International Year of Light 2015
International Year of
Light 2015


Celebrate the photon!