Summer at Kitt Peak

In a typical year, July and August bring monsoon rains to Arizona and New Mexico. The rain is much needed in the desert, but it does mean poor observing conditions for most of those two months. Because of that, the observatory typically shuts down its major telescopes for ongoing maintenance and upgrades that help keep them state of the art.

WIYN in Rain

Those of us who work principally at night, often get a more relaxed schedule, which enables us to take vacation time. When we’re at work, we often get a chance to lend a hand on projects around the observatory. This past week, I worked during the daytime, helping with a couple of projects at the WIYN 3.5-meter telescope. One of those projects was cleaning, tuning, and testing the actuator control cards on the back of the WIYN telescope.

Actuator Work

Here you see the back of the WIYN 3.5-meter telescope. Each of those disks at the back are attached to a motor and a rod, which deform the telescope’s primary mirror so it has the optimal shape, no matter where it’s pointed in the sky. With time, the electronics in each of those actuators becomes less reliable.

So, for example, the WIYN primary mirror weighs about 4200 pounds. When working properly, the actuators should measure that weight pretty accurately. However, with wear and tear, they reached a point where they were measuring the weight as 4570 pounds. As I write this, we’ve tuned about about one third of the cards and now the weight is reading 4370 pounds, much closer and an indication that we’re doing much-needed work. Here’s one of the control cards in its test bench setup.

Actuator Card

Another project I helped with this week was upgrading the drives for the filter arms on the One-Degree Imager at WIYN. In essence, the whole objective of having a camera on a telescope is to accurately measure the amount of light coming into it from distant stars and galaxies. However, visible light is made up of all the colors of the rainbow. Red light, blue light, and violet light are all jumbled together. So, the best way for us to measure light accurately is to take black-and-white pictures with colored filters in front that allow light of precise frequencies to pass through.

The One-Degree Imager has filters that are approximately one-foot by one-foot square. It takes a lot of force to move those pieces of glass and hold them rigidly in place.
ODI-Filters In the photo on the left, you’re looking down on the filter arms. The filter arms used to be held in place by a series of gears. However, the force required to move those arms was so great, the gears were literally grinding themselves to dust. So the gear system has been replaced by a system which utilizes a chain drive like that you might find in a motorcycle! You can see the chain on the bottom of the photo. I’m looking forward to the new observing season when we get to use this new filter drive system. It promises to move and hold the filters much better than the old system.

Another project that’s moving forward is the Extreme Position Doppler Spectrometer which NASA is contracting for the WIYN telescope in order to support space missions searching for planets around other stars. This week, I was asked if I would provide input into how to practically operate this device. It sounds like I’ll learn more this autumn, but I’m looking forward to the challenge and hoping I’ll have something good to contribute which will both help achieve the mission objectives and make it a user-friendly instrument.

In the meantime, I have not forgotten my literary endeavors. I just finished editing a four-short story collection called Sugar Time written by Joy V. Smith. Hadrosaur Productions published an audio book edition some years ago, but this will be an ebook and chapbook containing the four original stories with new cover art by Laura Givens. Look for more details in next week’s blog post.

Also, if you live in New Orleans or will be visiting on the weekend of August 22, please drop by Boutique du Vampyre in the French Quarter between 3 and 6pm, where I’ll be signing copies of Vampires of the Scarlet Order and Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order.

Monsoon Season

It’s monsoon season here in the southwest, and fortunately this year we’re getting much needed rain both at home in Las Cruces and at Kitt Peak National Observatory. During monsoon season, the clouds typically roll in around four or five o’clock in the afternoon, then rain. Sometimes they disburse and sometimes linger into the morning hours. Either way, the warm temperatures and cloudy skies make it tempting to spend a lot of time where it’s dry, enjoying the air conditioning and reading a good book. One place I like to discover good books is at science fiction conventions and I spent last weekend at Bubonicon in Albuquerque.

Bubonicon Dealer's Table

The photo shows me at the Hadrosaur Productions table in the dealer’s room. In addition to dealing, I was on several panels. Two that were closely related to my steampunk writing were “Sci-Fi and Southwestern Fiction” moderated by Walter Jon Williams and “The Weird Weird West” moderated by John Maddox Roberts. One highlight of the first panel was discovering that Laura J. Mixon had family connected to the Roswell Incident. As it turns out, my undergraduate advisor, an atmospheric physicist named C.B. Moore claimed to be responsible for the Roswell Incident, saying it was a nuclear sensing balloon that got away from him. Both panels touched on Tombstone, Arizona along with the technology that has long been present in the Southwest. For example, Nikola Tesla had his lab in Colorado Springs. What’s more, railroads and mining companies brought a lot of technology into the southwest.

During the convention, I had the opportunity to read from my novels Lightning Wolves and Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order. Speaking of which, if you’re looking for something to read as summer wanes into fall, I’m giving away a copy of Dragon’s Fall over at The Scarlet Order Web Journal, but you need to hurry if you’d like to enter. I stop taking entries on the afternoon of Sunday, August 10. By the way, this lovely graphic for Dragon’s Fall was created by Sharlene Martin Moore. If you’re an author and would like her to create one for you, visit http://graphicsbysharlene.wix.com/graphicsbysharlene.

Dragons Fall Card 2

As for my own reading, I’m wrapping up the submission period for Tales of the Talisman Magazine. We’ll be closing to all submissions at midnight Mountain Daylight Time on August 15. Please note, I have a short list full of outstanding stories. Thanks to those who have submitted. If you haven’t heard back from me yet, I’m hoping to have answers to you by the end of August.