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Conversation, collaboration, connection
From one end of the convention center to the other, in social media and in pubs and restaurants around town, the conversation never seems to lag among the SPIE Astronomical Telescopes + Instrumentation community. The 2016 event in Edinburgh has been outstanding -- we captured as much as we could below. There is more on social media at #SPIEastro.
See all y'all in Austin, Texas, USA, in 2018?
Browse below for more reports from the week
This way to #SPIEastro!
SPIE Astronomical Telescopes + Instrumentation 2016 enjoyed an enthusiastic opening Sunday morning at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre, with many of the expected 2,400 attendees on hand for the first conferences and course of the week.
Above: top left, greeters were on hand to point the way to the registration hall; top right, the morning coffee break provided opportunity to reconnect with colleagues; lower, a standing-room-only audience heard the latest from James Webb Space Telescope scientists in two sessions in the conference on Space Telescopes and Instrumentation: Optical, Infrared, and Millimeter Wave.
Adaptive Optics: 'into each project ...'
Katie Morzinski of the University of Arizona (above left, with conference chair Enrico Marchetti of the European Southern Observatory) reported on the MagAO -- the AO system at the Magellan Clay telescope at Las Campanas Observatory in Chile -- during the first session Sunday of the Adaptive Optics conference, amusing the audience (at right) with the observation that "into every project, some glycol must fall," in describing discovery and repair of a leak in the system.
The MagAO system enables stable connection providing extended sciences hours at a time, Morzinski noted. Important science results include the first ground-based CCD image of an exoplanet, discovery of the first accreting protoplanets, discovery of a new wide-orbit exoplanet, and the first empirical bolometric luminosity of an exoplanet.
James Webb updates
The conference on Space Telescopes and Instrumentation opened with two sessions providing updates on the James Webb Space Telescope, chaired by Gillian Wright of the UK Astronomy Technology Centre and Jim Oschmann of Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. A team of more than 1,000 is at work on various aspects of the project, in labs and other facilities around the world.
Speakers, chairs, and others involved with the JWST include (from left above) Gary Matthews (Harris Corp.), Joe Howard (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center), Jonathan Arenberg (Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems), Jim Breckinridge (Breckinridge Associates), Gillian Wright (UK Astronomy Technology Centre), Jim Oschmann (Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp.), Michael McElwain (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center), Howard MacEwan (Reviresco LLC); and (at right above) Charles Atkinson (Northrup Grumman Aerospace Systems).
LMT progress toward 50 meters
David Hughes, director of the Large Millimeter Telescope (LMT) and principal investigator for Mexico, presented the current status and plans for the binational collaboration between the United States and Mexico.
LMT represents the largest, most complex scientific instrumentation effort undertaken in Mexico. Located east of Mexico City at Sierra Negra at an elevation of 4,600 meters, LMT is optimized for observational wavelengths in the 0.85mm to 4mm range.
Currently operating as a 32-meter diameter instrument, work is underway to upgrade the telescope to its design target of 50-meter diameter by April 2017. Completion will enable the LMT to more fully participate in the Event Horizon Telescope effort seeking to observe supermassive black holes including the one located at the galactic center as well as additional studies designed to elucidate elements of fundamental astrophysics and the origins and evolution of the cosmos.
Software answers for cyberinfrastructure challenges
In the Technology Advancements program track, speakers in the conference on Software and Cyberinfrastructure for Astronomy started the day with project overviews, before moving into sessions focusing on specific aspects in the field. Among the speakers in a session Telescope Control, Shui Hung Kwok of the W.M. Keck Observatory (at right) presents in the conference on improving the pointing and tracking performance of the Keck telescopes.
Astronomical instruments routinely generate large amounts of data that must be collected, distributed, analyzed and stored. Sunday afternoon’s Data Management and Archives session explored these challenges and the methods to address them. Overall, the session highlighted the challenges with handling and analyzing large datasets and the efforts within the community to address these issues and enable scientists to fully study and understand their data.
Asher Baltzell of the University of Arizona discussed a cloud-based data reduction scheme applied to Magellan AO images and the resulting development of a free cyberinfrastructure for community use.
Tim Jennes of the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) described the challenges of handling large amounts of data and efforts of the LSST team to join the Astropy community leveraging and contributing to those software packages within the confines set by current funding limits and methodologies.
Marco Molinaro of INAF shared the results of his team’s EU-FP7 program, VIALACTEA, which provides an infrastructure for handling and manipulating diverse datasets into a more homogeneous database.
The session concluded with Bruce Berriman of CalTech describing work done at the Keck Observatory Archive using R-tree indexing schemes to enable faster, more efficient searches in studies of solar system objects.
Telescope upgrades and repairs
The conference on Ground-based and Airborne Telescopes opened with a session on updates to existing telescopes and observatories, opening with a talk by Marco Häsuer (at right) of the Universitäts-Sternwarte München, who described the upgrade of the Hobby-Eberly Telescope segment control system.
The project utilizes state-of-the-art decentralized and embedded system controllers, Häuser said. The upgrade will complete tip, tilt, and piston corrections of each mirror segment at a significantly higher rate, increase system reliability, and allow for sub-arc-second and sub-micro meter precision in tip, tilt and piston respectively.
Reading everywhere -- including new books
While first-day reading includes an intensive survey of the conference program (above), the SPIE bookstore (below) in the registration area offers other options. New titles including a Field Guide to Astronomical Instrumentation (authored by Christoph Keller, Ramón Navarro, and Bernhard Brandland) are available for browsing and purchase, along with other tutorial texts, field guides, and handbooks.
Also featured is a copy of the latest issue of the Journal of Astronomical Telescopes, Instrumentation, and Systems (JATIS). Journal editor-in-chief is Mark Clampin (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center).
Busy break time
Coffee breaks are busy times, as attendees reconnect with colleagues and make new acquaintances.
Saw you at the poster session
Sunday evening's poster session (above), the first of six to be held during the week, drew a large crowd -- a quite large crowd -- who still found their way through the poster stands to talk with authors about their work. The sessions continued to be popular throughout the week; see more photos from throughout the week below.
View from the top
Gillian Wright, director of the UK Astronomy Technology Centre (speaking at center left above), played host for a reception at the Royal Observatory Edinburgh Sunday evening. Guests (including University of St. Andrews alumni Mark Clampin (James Webb Space Telescope Observatory Project Scientist at NASA Goddard) and SPIE Senior Director Andrew Brown, below right) enjoyed the panoramic view of Arthur's Seat and the city below.
Monday plenaries: get to know 'mom', watch this space(time)
Monday morning's plenary speakers both entertained and informed the delighted audience (below left) who filled the Pentland auditorium.
Hitoshi Murayama (Kavli Institute for the Physics and Mathematics of the Universe, University of California Berkeley, and University of Tokyo) likened the quest to understand the universe as looking to get to know "our mom," from whom we were split at birth, in his talk on studying the birth and the fate of the universe using multi-object spectroscopy. In gaining understanding of cosmic expansion, Murayama is exploring questions such as, whether dark matter makes stars and galaxies, the nature of dark matter, and the relationship between dark matter and dark energy.
Martin Hendry of the University of Glasgow, whose team was involved with construction and installation of the LIGO facilities, detailed work that preceded last September's discovery of gravitaional waves and descried the development of the project. There are further gains to come from Advanced LIGO as well as LISA Pathfinder, Hendry said, so "watch this spacetime" (and visit the Caltech LIGO website to download a mobile phone ringtone version of the chirp representing the first gravitational wave observation).
Colin Cunningham of the UK Astronomy Technology Centre, who along with Masanori Iye of the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, introduced the session with acknowledgement of the contributions of 17th-century Scottish mathematician James Gregory. Cunningham noted that Gregory's observations about diffraction shared with Isaac Newton led to the beginnings of much being discussed at SPIE Astronomical Telescopes + Instrumentation. He cited Gregory's comment ending his write-up on his concept of the refractive telescope, "with these, we go to the stars."
Below right are Hitoshi Murayama, Martin Hendry, Colin Cunningham, Masanori Iye, and SPIE CEO Eugene Arthurs.
Read more in optics.org: 'Gravity waves and dark energy in focus at SPIE astro meeting'
Wisdom from -- and for -- a career in astrophysics: Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell
Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell arrived with wisdom aplenty to share from her career in astrophysics, but began her talk at the Women in Optics luncheon with some more pressing observations for scientists following on the UK referendum to leave the European Union.
For one, she said, the referendum "closes doors" for connecting with colleagues and new opportunities, making conferences such as this week's and the networks they foster more important that ever.
Bell Burnell also noted that government discussions at some point will need to consider how to adjust for the considerable loss of EU funding received by scientists in the UK, particularly in Scotland.
Turning to her career, Bell Burnell told how her parents' perseverance led to opportunities for her to study science, paving the way for her discovery of pulsars which led to her PhD supervisor being awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics.
Typically either the only or one of a very few females in her physics programs, Bell Burnell told of enduring catcalls on entering the classroom as a matter of routine -- as a result of which she discovered she could control blushing -- and credited her accomplishments throughout her education and wide-ranging career to knowing what she wanted to do, a willingness to take risks, and her practices of keeping options open, pressing on after failure, and aiming high.
A lively question-and-answer session following Bell Burnell's talk transitioned into discussions among luncheon attendees (below) on topics such as how to raise awareness of subconscious bias, child care and other family-friendly arrangements at scientific conferences, and the nuances around reporting sexual harassment.
NASA prepares for the Decadal 2020 study
A Monday morning session featuring speakers from four NASA Science Technology Definition Teams preparing submissions for the Decadal 2020 study was held as a joint session of the two space telescope conferences.
Margaret Meixner of the Space Telescope Science Institute presented the concept for a Far-IR Surveyor instrument to bridge the wavelength gap between the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) and the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA) installation. This instrument would further understanding of the evolution of the universe, deepening knowledge on topics ranging from the formation of the first stars and protogalaxies to the energetics seeding the creation of super-massive black holes.
The concept for the HabEx Surveyor was reviewed by Bertrand Mennesson of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. This instrument continues the search for and characterization of potentially habitable worlds and would provide data on galaxy formation and evolution through observational studies of stellar and active galactic nuclei (AGN), baryon life cycle, and processes such as galaxy leakiness and reionization. Initial plans target continuous spectral coverage from 0.4µm-1.0µm with an aperture size in the range of 3.5-8m.
The concept for a large UV/optical/IR surveyor, the LUVOIR, was the topic of the presentation given by Kevin France of the University of Colorado Boulder. This instrument would seek to combine imaging and spectroscopy capability in a single high contrast tool acting as a multi-wavelength observatory addressing a wide scope of topics ranging from star formation to the composition of exoplanet atmospheres to the frequency of potentially habitable.
Jessica Gaskin of the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center (at the podium, above) discussed the early ideas around the X-ray Surveyor. Thought of in some sense as a successor to the Chandra Observatory, this instrument would further understanding of the origin and growth of the first supermassive black holes, of the evolution of galaxies, and of the physics of matter in extreme conditions. The early vision for the instrument calls for large area, large field-of-view with sub-arcsecond imaging capability combined with high resolution spectroscopy for observing point-like and spread sources.
Overall, the four presentations provided early insight into the concepts being considered for NASA’s 2020 decadal program. The Science Technology and Definition teams in all cases have been defined only within the last several months, and the presenters urged active engagement by members of the community to help formulate the evolving definition of these proposals.
With the three-year definition cycle prior to presentation of results to the NASA decadal committee just underway, the international community has ample time to provide input on this next generation of astronomical instrumentation designed to further deepen our understanding of the universe.
Welcome! National Museum hosts the party
The National Museum of Scotland, with displays such as the lighthouse lens above, provided a delightful setting for the all-symposium welcome reception Monday evening. A few light-footed attendees enjoyed the party in style, dancing to music by the band Reel Time (at right, below).
Tuesday plenaries: understanding ionization, visit to a comet
Symposium chair Masanori Iye (below right) of the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan introduced the second set of plenary talks to another full house on Tuesday.
Explaining how infrared spectroscopy is expected to aid the quest to understand the birth of the very first galaxies, Richard Ellis (above left) of the European Southern Observatory noted that the field is one of the fastest-moving subjects in astronomy and astrophysics, and that new ground-based telescopes using adaptive optics technology will advance the quest.
Read more in optics.org: Spectroscopy key to understanding galaxy formation
Monica Grady of The Open University (above right) related the dramatic story of the European Space Agency 's comet-chaser Rosetta mission. Launched in 2004, Rosetta arrived at comet 67P Churyumov-Gerasimenko in August 2014, and since then has been studying the comet and its dust outflows. The Philae lander was delivered to the comet in November 2014, and produced data for 70 hours before its batteries died. Grady is a science advisor to one of the instrument teams associated with the Philae lander. (Below left, the red line shows the path of Philae's bumpy landing.)
Looking for the exhibition? Just follow the piper
This is how you open an exhibition in Scotland: Roddy the Piper, above, led the way from the plenary auditorium to the exhibit hall for the opening of the sold-out exhibition ... with a stop for a photo opp. The two-day show offered the the chance to see the latest from suppliers and hear updates from major missions, and even perhaps some job-hunting for some visitors, as a number of organizations have mentioned this week that they are hiring.
Toward gender equity in a difficult year
The past year has been emotionally difficult for the astronomy community, noted Claire Max (above right), director of the University of California Observatories and chair of a panel discussion Tuesday afternoon on Effective Ways to Deal with Gender Equity in the Adaptive Optics Community.
Comments reflected the year's difficulties, ranging beyond the panel's stated scope as attendees related mutiple factors that create challenges in the pursuit of a career in astrophysics. Participants cited issues with sexual harassment; unconscious bias; workplaces that are not designed to comfortably accommodate women as well as men; conferences scheduled on weekends, when it is difficult to find child care; and policies against bringing young children into conference or poster sessions.
(One result of hearing attendees' comments was an adjustment by SPIE of its policies for SPIE Astronomical Telescopes + Instrumentation to allow parents to bring their children into those activities; see the "Update from SPIEastro" on the event web site for details.)
Panelists -- Michèle Péron, Director of Engineering of the European Southern Observatory; Neill Reid, Space Telescope Science Institute Associate Director for Science; Madeline Close, Gemini Observatory Systems Engineer Group Manager; and Rachel Ivie, Director of American Institute of Physics Statistical Research Center (from left above) -- provided information from several studies on topics such as whether there is a "gender effect" on why PhDs transition out of the field, data on representation of women and men in technology fields, and methods such as Athena Swan assessments and Project Juno for raising awareness and effecting improvements that support gender equity.
Symposium chair Colin Cunningham responded to a suggestion from participants that the topic of gender equity be given higher profile at a future SPIEastsro meeting, saying he would bring the matter to the attention of the symposium steering committee later in the week.
Lunch with the experts
Symposium chair Colin Cunningham (top left, above) of the UK Astronomy Technology Centre welcomed students and experts to a casual networking lunch Tuesday afternoon, where experts shared insights on careers and opportunities in optics and photonics. Pictured above from among the experts on hand were James Fienup (University of Rochester), Helen Hall (National Association of Professional Women), Paul Lightsey (Ball Aerospace & Technologies), Peter Hartmann (Schott AG), and Paul Scowen (Arizona State University).
Hall chaired the conference on Ground-based and Airborne Telescopes, and Lightsey, along with Jonathan Arenberg of the James Webb Space Telescope team at Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems, taught the well-attended course on Systems Engineering and Large Telescope Observatories.
Anyone for a reel?
Roddy the Piper and his ensemble Reel Time entertained SPIEastro attendees at yet another event, piping in the haggis and drawing the brave out onto the dance floor during the all-conference dinner at The Hub Tuesday evening.
Wednesday plenaries: tomorrow's telescopes, radio astronomy
Symposium co-chair Allison Barto (below right) of Ball Aerospace & Technologies introduced Wednesday's plenary speakers -- once again to an overflowing audience.
George Helou of Caltech (at left above) gave a visionary look into telescopes of the future and how they will provide a view "into the invisible," to answer questions about how the Universe came to be in its current state and how it is held together. He noted the tremendous technical challenges that lie ahead in this compelling area.
Raffaella Morganti (above right) of the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy and the University of Groningen gave an overview of the current and future capabilities offered by radio astronomy in wide field of view and high spatial resolution. What now takes a century, we will be able to do in three years, she said.
Thursday plenaries: imaging exoplanets, surveying the sky
Symposium co-chair Suzanne Ramsay (below right) of the European Southern Observatory introduced the final set of plenary speakers on Thursday.
The newly installed extreme adaptive optics instruments such as VLT/SPHERE and GEMINI/GPI have enabled many improvements in imaging exoplanets, demonstrated Anne-Marie Lagrange (above left) of the CNRS Institut de Planetology et d'Astrophysique de Grenoble. New technologies coupled with sophisticated algorithms yield more detailed, higher resolution images (e.g., below left) enabling the confirmation of several exoplanets each year, while it formerly was difficult to confirm even one.
It is an interesting time indeed to be in astronomy, noted Andrew Connolly (above right) of the University of Washington, and algorithms play a significant role in that. "Algorithms have transformed what we can get out of transit survey," Connolly said, enabling scientists to subtract the noise without subtracting the astrophysics. The more valuable resource today is not computation, but people who can write new algorithms -- as effective in advancing the field as Moore's Law has been for semiconductors.
Congratulations on well-deserved awards!
SPIE Fellow and Awards Committee member Jim Oschmann (at right above) of Ball Aerospace & Technologies presented SPIE awards to two members of the astronomy community this week.
On Wednesday morning, Joe Howard (at left) of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center was introduced as a Fellow of SPIE. Howard is Lead Optical Designer for the James Webb Space Telescope and a member of the SPIE Board of Directors. Fellows are recognized for significant technical achievement and service to the general optics community and SPIE.
Thursday morning, Supriya Chakrabarti (at right) of the University of Massachusetts, Lowell, was presented with the SPIE 2016 George W. Goddard Award, recognizing his accomplishments as an innovative scientist, visionary physicist, scholar, and role model. His current research interests are in exoplanets, interstellar medium, planetary atmosphere, and instrumentation. The Goddard Awawrd recognizes invention and innovative developments in Earth, planetary, or astronomical science and technologies for reconnaissance or surveillance from airborne or space platforms.
Astronomy Hack Day -- innovation reigns
Astronomy Hack Day is a coder's haven: Invite a few dozen creative developers into the room, provide snacks and lunch, and enjoy the inspiration of like minds for a day of sharing ideas, experimenting, solving problems, exploring, and creating new data in innovative ways.
Projects on Thursday included building a CubeSat, writing code for scanning massive files to create a tidy web interface ... and using local inspiration to transform a poster paper into a kilt.
Participants at this year's event, hosted by SPIE, enjoyed lunch via the sponsorship of the South African Large Telescope (SALT).
|Local inspiration led to a kilt hack,
modeled by Steven Crawford (South
African Astronomical Observatory).
|Presenters, from left, Sarah Tuttle (University
of Washington), Daniel Weatherill (University
of Oxford), and Daniel Vagg (Parameter
Space), and session chair Sarah Kendrew
(European Space Agency) share results.
Fascinating science, open to all
Applause indeed for Fred Watson (Australian Astronomical Observatory) and Martin Hendry (University of Glasgow), who provided a very enjoyable evening of accessible science open to the public as well as conference attendees on Thursday evening. Introduced by Astronomer Royal for Scotland John Brown of the University of Glasgow, Watson spoke on the brief yet brilliant life of 17th-century Scottish mathematician James Gregory, and Hendry on the discovery gravitational waves, predicted by Albert Einstein in 1915 and confirmed in 2015 by the LIGO facilities. (From left above, Brown, Hendry, and Watson).
Among Gregory's contributions, noted Watson, were the design for the reflecting telescope -- now known as the Gregorian telescope -- in his Optica Promota (below left), published in 1663, and calculations that helped pave the wave for contributions by Newton, Herschel, and other more famous names in astronomy.
Hendry explained how the network of LIGO instruments -- the most sensitive measuring devices yet developed -- picked up signals (at right below) confirming gravitational waves from colliding black holes in September and again in December. The "ripples in space-time" detected by LIGO measured approximately a million millionth the width of a human hair.
And the winners are ...
The end of the last day was highlighted in the conference on Advances in Optical and Mechanical Technologies for Telescopes and Instrumentation with the presentation of best-paper awards by Ramón Navarro, NOVA Optical and Infrared Instrumentation Group at ASTRON. Navarro is conference chair along with James Burge, College of Optical Sciences, University of Arizona. The awards were sponsored by NOVA, the Netherlands Research School for Astronomy.
|Best Student Presentation:
Pradip Gatkine, University of Maryland,
College Park, “Development of high-resolution
arrayed waveguide grating spectrometer for
first results” [9912-245]
| Best Student Presentation, honorable mention:
Dmitry Vorobiev, Rochester Institute of
Technology, “Measurements of the reflectance,
contract ratio, and scattering properties of
digital micromirror devices (DMDs)” [9912-268]
| Best Oral Presentation:
James Gilbert, University of Oxford
and Australian Astronomical Observatory,
“Echidna Mark II: one giant leap for
‘tilting spine’ fibre positioning
| Best Poster Presentation:
Mustafa Ekinci, Tübitak Space Technologies
Research Center, “Development of a 0.5m
clear aperture Cassegrain-type collimator
telescope” [9912-259] (receiving the
award from conference chair
Ramón Navarro, at left)
Press and blog coverage
The SPIE Astronomical Telescopes + Instrumentation conference (#SPIEastro) in Edinburgh
Astrobites, 8 July 2016
'Outstanding participation of the IAC in SPIE 2016'
Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias, 5 July 2016
'e2v camera subsystem read for dark energy study'
optics.org, 1 July 2016
'GPI at 2016 SPIE Astronomical Telescopes + Instrumentation'
Cosmic Diary, 1 July 2016
'MagAO at SPIE Astronomical Telescopes & Instrumentation'
Magellan AO, 1 July 2016
'World’s leading telescope developers gather in Edinburgh for SPIE Astronomical Telescopes + Instrumentation'
The Scotsman, 29 June 2016
'Giant Magellan Telescope team to host 'industry interaction conference''
optics.org, 29 June 2016
'Thirty Meter Telescope site decision to made in early 2017'
optics.org, 28 June 2016
'Spectroscopy key to understanding galaxy formation'
optics.org, 28 Jun 2016
'Gravity waves and dark energy in focus at SPIE astro meeting'
optics.org, 27 June 2016
'Large Synoptic Survey Telescope "on track" for first light in 2020'
optics.org, 27 June 2016
'Twinkle exoplanet mission completes design milestone'
phys.org, 17 Jun 2016
'LIGO picks up more G-wave chirps'
optics.org, 16 Jun 2016
'Kepler finds nine more "habitable zone" exoplanets'
optics.org, 11 May 2016
'SPIE 2016: Surprises along the way'
The View Up Here, 5 May 2016
'ESO's latest facility upgrade features four new TOPTICA Guide Star Lasers on Cerro Paranal'
AZoOptics, 3 May 2016
'ESO's Guide Start Facility now fully operational'
optics.org, 29 April 2016
The View Up Here, 8 April 2016
SPIE press releases
'The latest technologies for exploring the universe will highlight SPIE Astronomical Telescopes + Instrumentation'
11 May 2016
'Journal of Astronomical Telescopes, Instruments, and Systems launch creates new space exploration forum'
17 December 2014
'SPIE Astronomical Telescopes + Instrumentation 2014: news from on-site in Montréal'
22-27 June 2014
All photos © SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics, except where noted.