Advanced Observing Program at Kitt Peak

Session of November 12, 2001

Barry "Clete" Baker flew into Tucson from Omaha, Nebraska to meet me for an observing session and introduction for ccd imaging for Clete. Although the weather was marginal, we still had a great time (I love just being on the mountain...). AOP lead observer Adam Block treated us to a tour of some of the mountain's facilities and a wide-ranging discussion of astronomy- and imaging-related issues.

Assist with telescope overhaul, September 2000

Spent several days assisting with the overhaul of the 16" LX200 used for the Advanced Observing Program (Please don't throw me in the briar patch!).

Session of December 5 & 6, 1999

Bob Denny and I spent two glorious nights on Kitt Peak; Bob had donated his excellent Astronomer's Control Panel and PinPoint Astrometry Engine software to the AOP program, and we were giving the 16" LX200 a workout. The weather was perfect, the seeing was spectacular, and the whole experience was unforgettable.

We met Lead Observer Adam Block for dinner and discussed our plans; I wanted to capture a set of images for an article I'm writing, and to test my PPAstro program, which uses the PinPoint Astrometry Engine. Bob had a script configured to perform an automated asteroid search.

Having the luxury of two consecutive nights gave us a lot of flexibility to test a wide variety of configurations, and still left time to take some pretty pictures (always a plus!).

The evening started out with a beautiful sunset. Each time I have visited Kitt Peak I have looked for the green flash, but on previous trips the horizon had just enough cloud cover to prevent seeing it. My Canon 15x45 Image-Stabilized binoculars provided a spectacular view of a truly memorable green flash.

What followed is a complex mosaic of technical discussions, imaging, and plate-solving the images, terminating in a successful unattended asteroid search. We selected known asteroid locations, since we were testing the capabilities of the 16" in conjunction with Bob's software, rather than searching for new asteroids (perhaps next time...). For more information, see the Automated Asteroid Search page.

Since we had met all of our goals, we took the opportunity to have Adam show us LRGB techniques imaging M100 and NGC2841; see Images from Kitt Peak.

Session of February 16, 1999

Mark Alderson and I finally made it to Kitt Peak for the Advanced Observing Program. Both of our schedules were full prior to the trip; at our time of arrival, we still didn't have an observing plan. I did have a list of several objects I wanted to image with the Optec f/3.3 telecompressor, but otherwise, I was delighted just to be there.

We checked into our room and met lead observer Adam Block at the Visitor Center, and discussed our very tentative observing plans over dinner in the cafeteria. The late afternoon weather was a little questionable, but we were game. We watched a beautiful sunset, then sat in on the public viewing program. More than a few of the people signed up for the public viewing program left early, presuming the weather would interfere; Adam even modified his program to ensure a memorable viewing. As it turns out, the sky was spectacular.

When the public viewing program ended, we immediately set up for CCD imaging, and were rewarded with the images displayed on the Images from Kitt Peak page. We knew that a weather system was moving in, since Adam had shown us the current satellite images several times during the early evening. A couple of times, we moved to image clear portions of the sky as a cloud system moved through. Once, we even considered shutting down, but stars began to peek through the clouds again. Some of the images were taken through light cloud cover; I am amazed at the quality of the M51 and NGC4565 images given the conditions in which they were taken.

We finally shut down at about 04:30; by that time the cloud cover had pretty much obscured the sky. Even so, we had a memorable evening. Even as we copied image files to our ZIP disk, we were both planning when we could return...

Session of November 17, 1998

I picked my brother David up at Tucson International Airport at noon on Tuesday, November 17, 1998, and we drove up to Kitt Peak to particiapte in the Advanced Observing Program. We checked into our room and met with lead observer Adam Block for dinner, at which time we discussed our tentative plans for the evening. David and I were concerned about the steady flow of clouds from the south, and we hoped the wind would move them away. Well, we got our wish: the wind blew 35 mpg through most of the night. Although the clouds were no longer an issue, long exposures and tri-color images were risky at best. We enjoyed some visual observation time, and Adam showed us a wide variety of celestial delights, in addition to the handful of "must-see" items that David and I requested.

After about an hour, we installed the SBIG ST-7 and scanned for suitable targets. I requested M1, the Crab Nebula, since I had never imaged it (and it was in a suitable place in the sky, considering the wind). We scanned the reference materials for subjects, since most of the objects I had selected as potential targets would have required turning the dome into the wind. We used the Digital Sky Survey (which is available on the Internet) and Uranometria to select several galaxies for imaging; the results appear on the Images from Kitt Peak page.

All too soon dawn was approaching and we retired to the dorm to get some sleep before returning home with images and memories... Thanks, David, for flying to Tucson and join me for an evening of viewing and imaging; and thanks, Adam, for providing another memorable astronomical experience.

Session of March 20, 1998

My daughter April and I had the opportunity to spend a night at Kitt Peak learning about CCD imaging under the skilled guidance of lead observer Adam Block. As a neophyte amateur astronomer and CCD enthusiast, I jumped at the chance to work under spectacular skies with superb equipment, under the tutlage of an astronomer experienced in deep-sky CCD imaging. Up to this time, I had just enough experience with CCD imaging to have blundered through most of the mistakes that plague a new user. My observing partner, Mark Alderson (LX200 owner), and I had been experimenting with a Meade Pictor 216XT for several months.

April and I arrived on the mountain on March 20, 1998 at about 4:00 p.m. local time, and were escorted to the Administration building to check in and get our room assignment. I walked back to the visitor center to meet Adam Block, the program's lead observer, and our guide for the evening. We met for dinner at the cafeteria and discussed our viewing plans.

As a neophyte CCD user, I was looking to improve my basic skills, learn some tips and techniques, and enjoy using a large-aperture telescope under excellent dark skies. The AOP far exceeded my every expectations! If you are not familiar with this outstanding program, check out the Kitt Peak Advanced Observing Program page.

Although we had a list of deep-sky objects we were interested in imaging, I was more interested in the technical aspects of the session. I wanted to image a barred spiral galaxy (M95), and April and I both wanted to try at least one tri-color image of a nebula, but we had not selected a suitable subject. A major concern is matching the size of the subject to the area of the CCD chip. Adam worked through the reference materials with us (primarily Uranometria and TheSky) to narrow the field of candidates, then showed us how to use the Digitized Sky Survey to view their size relative to the field of view of the CCD chip. The DSS is also great for helping to select subjects that are "photogenic". One of the objects that Adam suggested was supernova 1998S; April and I enthusiastically agreed this was a "must-see" (or "must-image" anyway).

Adam worked through the reference material with us, and showed us some "tricks of the trade" for locating suitable imaging subjects in TheSky and in the printed reference materials.

The public viewing program starts just before sundown, and lasts about three hours; once the public program is completed, the AOP participants have the observatory for the remainder of the evening. We elected to switch to the CCD imager/guider immediately. The sky was so beautiful and clear that it would have been easy to just spend the night in visual observing, but we were determined to capture some CCD images.

The entire time that we were selecting objects, guiding, and imaging, I was picking Adam's brain; he willingly addressed my most arcane questions and requests.

In all, it was an experience that we will never forget; when I ran into some of April's friends a week later, they told me how excited they were to see the images that we had brought home.

Some of the images appear on the Images from Kitt Peak page.

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