This month the NRT staff of the Institute of Astrophysics of Canary Islands (IAC) went to Roque de los Muchachos Observatory (ORM) in La Palma to 'stand on the shoulders of giants' and learn more about some of the telescopes at the site.
First up, the team visited Gran Telescopio Canarias (GTC), the largest telescope in the world with a 10.4 metre diameter mirror. The team will be adapting the GTC software for the NRT, which will be the largest robotic telescope in the world. The IAC were given VIP access to the 'forbidden doors' of GTC: the backstage, the mirrors' room and the electrical room. The team learned about the 'dos and don'ts' of building this titanic telescope and putting it to work. Some recommendations seem easy to follow and others not so much; for instance, we will have to imagine what technology will be like in 20 years so that the telescope can be easily updated in the future.
The GTC is not a robotic telescope, at night there are several operators making the decisions about what to observe and what to do if a problem with the telescope occurs. These operators also decide when to close the telescope if the weather conditions get bad.
In the case of a robotic telescope these decisions are taken by an 'artificial intelligence' of the telescope itself. The NRT engineers will adapt the 'artificial intelligence' of the Liverpool Telescope (LT), another facility the team had the opportunity to visit.
The team were given a tour of the facility by Dirk Raback, LT maintenance engineer, and discussed many different aspects of the telescope design. Seemingly simple problems such as where cables would be routed through the telescope structure were big topics for discussion. Cabling was a big issue at the start of the LT project and a large amount of rewiring and reassembling was needed: the NRT team are keen to learn from such valuable experiences! The team also discussed IT hardware, control computers and how power is maintained during a power cut, along with functional aspects of LT operations such as primary mirror maintenance and enclosure operation. The team also learned about the Cassegrain focal station where the flexible instrumentation suite is housed on the LT.
Last but not least, the team went to the site of the Carlsberg Meridian Telescope (CMT). The CMT (formerly the Carlsberg Automatic Meridian Circle) began operation in May 1984 and carried out high-precision optical astrometry (measurements of the positions and movements of stars and other celestial bodies). When the telescope first arrived in La Palma it was one of the first fully automatic telescopes in the world; a great legacy for the NRT to continue.
The CMT performed its final night of observations on 1st September 2013 and will be taken to an astronomical museum. The enclosure will be demolished to make room for the NRT enclosure, however, we may keep the CMT garage; an example of astronomical recycling! Drawings or photos cannot accurately describe the site layout for engineers and scientists working on the project; visiting the future NRT site provided valuable insights into the project for the team and was also a great experience to see such a fascinating facility.