Subject: 3.5-m Users Committee minutes 7/17/06

From: Bruce Gillespie

Submitted: Thu, 20 Jul 2006 16:08:52 -0600

Message number: 979 (previous: 978, next: 980 up: Index)

                         APO 3.5-m Users Committee Phonecon, 7/17/06

Attending:  Suzanne Hawley, Bruce Gillespie, Michael Strauss, Rene  
Walterbos, John Bally, Remy Indebetouw, Al Harper, Scott Anderson,  
Jon Fulbright, John Wilson, Russet McMillan, Anjum Mukadam, Russell Owen

Absent: Jon Holtzman, Bruce Balick

Minutes taken by Bruce Gillespie


User feedback, comments from institutional representatives:

Princeton (Michael Strauss):  Nothing much to report, everything is  

Colorado (John Bally):  No issues.

NMSU (Walterbos):  Nothing to report.

Johns Hopkins (Jon Fulbright):  Nothing to report.

Chicago (Al Harper):  Nothing new.

UWashington (Scott Anderson & Suzanne Hawley): No issues or problems.  
Some UW staff are working on Agile (see below).  Also, grad students  
are learning to use NIC-FPS.

Univ. of Virginia (Remy Indebetouw):  Nothing to report.


Discussion of telescope/instruments report:

There was discussion about the new DIS medium gratings (see message  
978 in the apo35-general archive from Stauss/McMillan).  The gratings  
appear to be very good and will hereafter be the default medium- 
dispersion gratings.  Also, the newly installed altitude and azimuth  
drive boxes seem to have made an improvement in the telescope  
tracking performance.  Otherwise, Bruce gave a brief overview of the  
report, given below.  Russet added that Gabrelle Saurage, our new  
Observing Specialist, has completed training and has soloed on the  


      3.5-m Telescope, Instruments, and CIF Projects Highlights,  
6/09/06 through 7/12/06

                                  Bruce Gillespie

0) Overview

We were happy to greet the early onset of the monsoonal rains, which  
dumped a few inches at the site, and to our great relief has greatly  
reduced the forest fire risk.  There were periods of decent observing  
conditions, two new gratings were installed in DIS, the new altitude  
drive box was successfully installed, and an unexpected problem with  
the tertiary mirror mount occurred and was repaired with little  
effective lost telescope time.

1) Telescope

The new version of TUI saw extensive use, seems to work well, and  
minor bugs were found and quickly fixed.  During a short planned  
engineering downtime, the new altitude drive box was installed and  
tested.  All three axis drive motors (one altitude, two azimuth) are  
now coupled to the newly fabricated boxes, which seem to have  
improved telescope tracking and pointing performance, as well as  
having given us a better/faster maintenance path if there are drive  
box problems in the future.

The biggest problem during the period was the delaminating of the  
metal center support post from the back of the tertiary mirror.  This  
was an unexpected reprise of a similar problem we had last fall, and  
after careful engineering analysis and discussions with a materials  
expert at the Steward Mirror Lab, it was determined that the metal  
puck that is attached to the glass was probably too small in contact  
area, and also that the RTV adhesive has marginal performance in this  
particular application.  A larger puck was machined, and a fresh  
supply of adhesive was used to reattach the support post.  The  
telescope was returned to on-sky checkout and science five days after  
the problem was diagnosed; nearly all of the lost observing time was  
unusable for science anyway due to clouds and rain.

2) Instruments

CorMASS was used with good results for the first time in a while.   
NIC-FPS focus scripts were tested with mixed results; more tests are  
planned.  There are unconfirmed reports that the "haze" in DIS blue  
camera has returned, which will be addressed shortly.  SPIcam was  
given its annual vacuum pumping.  The new blue and red medium  
resolution DIS gratings were received, installed, aligned,  
characterized, and accepted.  The NIC-FPS instrument team attempted  
to commission the Fabry-Perot etalon, and had difficulties (which  
John Bally will report on).

3) Engineering and CIF projects

Several of the engineering items are reported above and not repeated  
here.  In addition to the two new DIS gratings, the new red  
replacement CCD has been accepted and is being shipped to APO.  Its  
installation, plus that of the new red field flattener and new blue  
prism are now being planned for September.  The top-end project is  
going well and is scheduled for installation on the telescope  
beginning 28 August.

4) Miscellaneous

Fire risk in the Lincoln Nat'l forest is now low and the forest has  
been reopened to the public.


DIS upgrade status - Hawley:

Suzanne gave a summary report on the DIS upgrade items.  The two  
medium-dispersion gratings have been installed and accepted, and are  
now the default.  She would appreciate hearing feedback from DIS  
users on how well they are working.  The new red CCD has been  
accepted and we expect delivery at APO shortly.  The blue prism is  
expected by the end of July.  Due to manpower constraints, we are now  
planning to install the new CCD, red field flattener, and blue prism  
in early September.  A new high-dispersion grating is also expected  
to be delivered and installed in the next month or so.

Michael Strauss noted that we have a long-standing policy that all  
3.5-m users be signed up on the apo35general mailer, and he has  
reasons to think that many new users are not getting our  
announcements (e.g., about the DIS new gratings).

ACTION:  Users Committee members should send Michael  
( the names and e-mail addresses of 3.5-m  
users who are not yet signed up for the apo35general mailer.


NIC-FPS Fabry-Perot status - Bally:

John reported that he, Stephane Beland, and Nathaniel Cunningham  
recently were at APO to work on getting the NIC-FPS etalon  
commissioned.  They were unable to get the etalon controller to  
behave in a stable fashion with the etalon at cryo operating  
temperatures, and one of the actuator stacks appears to have become  
broken during the tests, rendering the etalon out of order.   
Conversations with the vendor's engineers did not lead to a  
definitive conclusion as to what the problem was.  Subsequent  
discussion at CU led to several options to consider:  1) fix the  
etalon again (it was also broken last year), 2) add an optical  
monitoring port to the instrument to sense etalon stability, 3)  
replace the etalon with a room-temperature Fabry-Perot that would be  
mounted in front of NIC-FPS, and 4) use a tiltable narrow-band filter  
instead of a Fabry-Perot.  Further talks are planned to determine  
which path(s) to take.  John wrote a trip report detailing the  
situation; copies can be e-mailed to interested persons by contacting  
John ( or Bruce (


"Agile" high-speed photometer - Hawley, Anjum Mukadum:

Anjum Mukadum and Paula Szkody have been awarded a grant to build a  
high-speed CCD photometer to use on the 3.5-m telescope.  It would be  
used for variable white dwarf stars, CVs, flare stars, etc.  The  
instrument, called Agile, was brought to the attention of the Users  
Committee last year, and is now a funded project.  Anjum wrote a four- 
page white paper describing the science goals and technical  
specification of Agile, which was given to the Users Committee prior  
to this meeting.  Copies of this paper can be furnished to interested  
persons by contacting Anjum ( or Bruce  
(  We are considering ways of implementing  
Agile on the telescope that would enable it to be a fully integrated  
facility instrument, available to all 3.5-m users through the TUI  
interface.  Michael asked why Agile needed so large a field of view,  
and Anjum replied that the 2.6 x 2.6 arcmin field is necessary in  
order to have comparison stars.  She expects to have the instrument  
ready for the telescope in six to eight months, and she invites  
questions from potential users about its features.


ACCORD System Workshop - Hawley:

Suzanne announced that AURA is planning to hold a 3rd "System  
Workshop" and that ACCORD, which is comprised of the directors of US  
observatories with telescopes 3m and larger, has been asked to take  
an active role in the planning for the workshop which is planned for  
mid November.  Suzanne, Don York and others from APO participated in  
the 2nd system workshop which was held in 2004.  To promote active  
participation from all levels of the US community, the ACCORD  
directors were asked to furnish the names of science working group or  
users group members to the organizing committee.  Thus, Suzanne sent  
the names of the users committee to the organizers, and they can  
expect to perhaps see some email traffic about this meeting soon.   
Other interested ARC members should feel free to contact Suzanne for  
more information or to be added to the list furnished to the  
organizing committee.


TUI upgrade policy - Russell Owen:

Russell Owen presented the proposed TUI upgrade policy, which has  
been under discussion for a few months.  The policy was endorsed by  
the committee members without modification, and is given for  
reference below.  Russell will consider embedding the policy inside  
TUI itself, so that it is readily available to the end users.


Comings and goings of committee members - Hawley:

Suzanne announced that Bruce Balick and Karl Glazebrook are retiring  
from the Users Committee, and thanked them for many years of  
service.  Scott Anderson and Jon Fulbright are the new committee reps  
from UW and JHU, respectively---welcome aboard, Scott and Jon.   
Suzanne also mentioned that Bruce Balick has stepped down as  
astronomy department chair at UW, and that she has assumed that role  
as of this month.


Previous Meetings Action Items report:

[open from previous months]:

ACTION:  BruceG will ask Russell what the pros and cons are of  
keeping TUI compatible with older versions of operating systems and  
libraries.  STATUS:  closed (see policy below).

ACTION:  BruceG to discuss issues of computer and network security  
with Fritz Stauffer.  STATUS:  Working group (site staff and users)  
formed to frame requirements.

ACTION:  BruceG will ensure that the orientation checklist is up to  
date and available on-line, so that prospective new users can review  
it prior to their orientation site visit.  STATUS:  Closed, see 

ACTION:  Jon Holtzman to talk to Fritz and BruceG about installing a  
RAID backup at NMSU.  STATUS:  Closed, system up and running at NMSU.

[new actions from last month]:

ACTION: Suzanne asked each Users Committee member to send her a  
paragraph or two in the next two days with an expression of interest  
and/or questions regarding this proposed NIR instrument.
STATUS:  Closed.

ACTION:  BruceG to forward Futures documents to Users Committee  
members, who then help the institutional Futures Committee member  
share them with their faculties and gather feedback.
STATUS:  Closed.


Next meeting:

There will be no meeting next month. The next Users Committee  
phonecon will be on Monday, 18 September, at 8:30 AM Pacific Time.   
Agenda and other materials will be sent to the committee members  
during the preceding week.


			   Proposed TUI Upgrade Policy

				  Russell Owen


This proposal describes what APO expects from users as far as keeping  
TUI current and the resources needed to run TUI. The intent is to  
balance the needs of the community against the limited resources of APO.

** Which TUI Versions You May Use **

Obviously we can't insist that users upgrade TUI every few months.  
It's too much work for the institutions. On the other hand, older  
versions of TUI can be a problem for APO because the observing  
specialists may find it more difficult to help the users and because  
of the presence of known bugs.

Thus use of older versions of TUI will be permitted where possible,  
but discouraged.

APO may occasionally require an update for various reasons, including:
- Incompatible changes to the "hub" software that are deemed  
sufficiently important to justify loss of backwards compatibility.
- Known serious problems with a version of TUI.
- Protecting the telescope or instruments.

** The Resources You Need To Run TUI **

The details depend on whether TUI is a binary distribution (Mac or  
Windows) or a source distribution (unix).

For binary distributions (Mac and Windows), the main concern is that  
TUI may not be compatible with every version of the operating system.  
I will try to support the two most recent major releases of the  
operating system.

Source distributions (unix) are usually independent the operating  
system, but require python, tcl/tk and some support libraries. I will  
support the two most recent major versions of python. I will try to  
minimize the number of support libraries and avoid changes to those  
support libraries.

In addition, TUI uses a few optional standalone external packages  
(xpa and ds9, plus possibly xephem in the future). TUI will support  
the two most recent major releases of these packages and/or versions  
that are approximately a year old.

Other comments:

- Unix: it would be handy to have a binary distribution (or at least  
a more self-contained source distribution). Is there somebody who  
could work on this? I haven't found the time to learn how to do it.

- Intel Macs: at present TUI runs in emulation mode. That is not  
likely to change until it becomes a problem or making universal  
binaries becomes easier.

- Windows: support is strictly on a "best effort" basis. I don't own  
a Windows machine and have little knowledge of the operating system  
and limited ability to test releases.

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