Remote Operations Implemented for
UKIRT has just
undergone the largest operational change in its 31-year history. On
December 13 2010, after several months of planning and
preparation, UKIRT was operated in a fully remote mode for the first
time and it is now a full-time remotely operated telescope.
On June 4 2010 the Director JAC announced that UKIRT would switch to
"Minimalist Operating Mode", which entailed plans to operate the
remotely from the JAC offices in Hilo from January 1
2011. Ever since the telescope was commissioned in 1979 it has always
been operated by a crew at the summit consisting of a telescope
operator (now Telescope System Specialist, TSS) and either a member
of the science staff or visiting astronomers. In the new operating
mode there is no summit crew at night and all observing is controlled
by a lone TSS in the new remote control room at the JAC building,
although there is still the opportunity for visitors and staff to sit
with the TSS for a night of observing.
A number of
things had to be in place before the switch could be made. The number
one priority was the safety of the public atop Mauna Kea when we open
in the evening and of course the safety of the facility. Our current
mode of operation requires someone to be at the summit when the dome
is opened to ensure that members of the public are at a safe distance
from the dome, the dome itself is free of ice and snow and the
dome interior is free of obstructions. Fortunately, since the JAC
operates two telescopes on Mauna Kea, the JCMT night-time crew are
available to perform this task and they visit UKIRT on their way to
the JCMT to coordinate opening with the UKIRT TSS at sea level.
During the night, we will have both infrared and low-light cameras
that can be used to monitor the facility which will eventually allow
us to open the dome without assistance from the JCMT, although for
now we still require a crew to be at UKIRT for the initial opening
safety measures include automatic shutdown in case of power failure
or a breakdown in network connections between Hilo and the summit,
and of course the JCMT night crew are available in the event of an
emergency. For this reason we currently only open UKIRT when the JCMT
crew are at the summit while we learn about the new mode over the
coming months. Facility security is of course also a concern and we
have taken measures to secure and monitor the dome overnight.
the arrival of first severe winter storm this year disrupted our
planned switch to remote observing. Dr Omar Almaini and his research
student, Caterina Lani, were due to observe as normal the two nights
prior to the switch but the storm delayed the trip to the mountain
until Monday afternoon. Still, on Monday night, with the two visitors
at the summit along with myself, Tim Carroll ran the telescope,
instrument and observing queue from Hilo with little or no
intervention from us in the summit control room. This was repeated
for one more night and then on Wednesday 15 December the
telescope was operated with all of us at the JAC and an empty summit
control room. This time, Jack Ehle was the on-shift TSS. Since then
all our night time observing has been done from Hilo.
UKIRT Head of Operations
UKIRT open on the first night of
The open dome and telescope: waiting
Jack Ehle, UKIRT TSS, operating UKIRT
from the JAC offices in Hilo.
Gary Davis, Director
JAC, and Jack Ehle in UKIRT's new control room at the JAC.