The Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope

Remote Observing at VATT

Since the very first design phases, remote observing has been one of our goals for VATT. This would allow the telescope to be operated by an off-site user, for example, someone in our offices in Castel Gandolfo, Italy. In 1993 when the telescope first began scientific operation, however, the hardware support and network infrastructure was simply not available to insure safe operation of the telescope.

Technology has improved significantly in the last 15 years, though, and we're proud to announce that the VATT had its fully-remote observing session. Last night Rich Boyle SJ, one of the astronomers at the Vatican Observatory, ran the telescope from his office in Tucson, AZ, 70 miles away from the telescope in our first fully-remote observing session ever. While there is more work that needs to be done before this becomes routine, in particular, several safety systems are not yet accessible remotely, this is an important first step toward making our telescope to off-site observers.

remote observing

Rich Boyle SJ, an observer at the Vatican Observatory, on the first night of remote observing at VATT. Rich is running the telescope from our offices in Tucson, AZ, 70 miles away from the telescope.


Instrumentation - 2010

Camera GUFI

The Vatican Observatory Research Group and the Centre for Astronomy, National University of Ireland Galway (NUI Galway), renewed a memo of understanding whereby the Galway Ultra Fast Imager (GUFI) would be located at VATT for another year starting on June 1st, 2010. The installation of this L3CCD instrument, based on a DV887 iXon Camera, with practically zero deadtime between exposures, was described in last year’s Annual Report. Leon Harding (NUI Galway) and Richard Boyle, S.J., have used Camera GUFI extensively in the fall of this year.

VATT Spectrograph

This year the VATT engineering staff (Franz, Harvey, Johnson, and Duffek), with input from Corbally, have been finalizing software and hardware on the new Spectrograph. Major challenges were found in modifications needed to the slit design, the grating rotator table, and the camera focus mechanism. The team transported the VATT Spectrograph to the Telescope this summer for trial tests on fitting, using the handling fixture, Derotator balancing, and slit view guiding. We succeeded in mounting the Spectrograph and balancing the Telescope and Derotator.

Problems we encountered there were few but none the less head scratches. The guide box welds interfered with VATT Spectrograph’s mounting flange and the slit stage mirrors were not aligned. A field modification to the Spectrograph mounting flange with a grinder solved the interference problem. The guide camera and VATT 4K-CCD controllers had to be re-located due to the controllers occupying the same mounting location as the Spectrograph. After many discussions the engineering team formulated a cautious plan to move the controllers, keeping in mind balance issues and aligning the guide box mirrors.

Our custom made instrument handling fixture worked great. We were able to hoist the instrument into place with full control over the x, y, and z positions.

At this point we were ready for guiding tests. However, due to weather this summer we were only able to get on the sky for a couple of minutes. This was just enough for a successful guide test. It turned out that the temporary, hand polished slit was sufficient for guiding.

We brought the VATT Spectrograph down for final assembly and alignment. In the final months of the year, we are testing the performance of the Spectrograph in the lab with the science camera before we commit to commissioning the instrument on the Telescope. If all goes according to schedule, we should be in commission mode in January, 2011.

Sloan Filter Set

A significant contribution was made by the Department of Physics at the University of Notre Dame to help observations at VATT. In consultation with Peter Garnavich (UND), a regular user of VATT who had promoted this gift, and Rolf Jansen (ASU) it was decided to put the $10,000 towards the purchase of a set of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey u’, g’, r’, i’, z’ filters. They came from Asahi Spectra Company, Ltd., in Japan and were a special order of 3.48” x 3.48” square filters with a uniform thickness of 5 mm. Corbally conducted the bidding process and purchase, while Franz arranged for holders to mount the filters in the VATT guide box. The Sloan filters were commissioned at VATT by Jonathan Stott, in December 2010.


Telescope Maintenance - 2010

The Telescope primary mirror had its yearly hard wash by Gray. This yearly maintenance has extended the period between mirror re-aluminizations as well as keeping the reflectivity high.

This year Gray performed maintenance on our UPS systems. A complete battery change and cleaning was accomplished to guarantee uninterrupted power for the control room and computer systems.

When Gray is not busy fabricating instrument handling fixtures, controller mounts, maintaining power systems and other projects as needed, he can be found performing routine building maintenance. This year the control room floor near the south door had to be completely replaced due to moisture damage over the years. It was found that the door seal was not able to prevent wind driven rain from entering the building. A new seal was designed, installed, and most certainly will be tested this coming winter.

Deck resurfacing was also completed this year. With the snow and ice accumulation from last year’s winter storms the concrete on the east and south side decks took a real beating from shoveling snow and chipping ice. So, a new concrete sealer was applied with traction grit in preparation for winter. Also, this year Gray implemented a wind break on the lower patio to prevent snow drifts from pilling up against the sliding glass door of the living room. Hopefully, this winterization will result in less snow removal.


Safety Program - 2010

Our safety program continues with great success. With our safety manager, Dale Web, and the assistant director of mountain operations Bob Peterson, walk-throughs continue on six month intervals to identify any potential safety issues. Currently, this year, we had one issue arise in the area of storing propane bottles. This has been an issue at other Telescopes on Mt. Graham, so a storage facility has been established with the help of MGIO personnel. This problem has been rectified and no other issues identified.

This year Gray manufactured a ramp for the observing floor. This ramp will aid in safely loading the facility instruments on to the scissors lift when instrument changes occur. During the summer shut down we were able to give this ramp a real workout when the team mounted the Spectrograph to the Telescope for the first time to test fit, balance, and check slit view guiding.

The engineering team continues to work towards a safer work environment.


Microwave Grounding - 2010

Since the repair of the microwave tower grounding system MGIO and Duffek have implemented a yearly check of the ground impedance. The specification we need to meet is 25 ohms or less. Again, with another year of service, three in total, we are experiencing a total of 1 ohm which is only a .5 ohm increase since the fix. It is apparent that the fix is working well.


Telescope Upgrades - 2010

The VATT engineering team performed design, Altitude axis testing, documentation and re-configuration of the Telescope in preparation for VATT Spectrograph (VattSpec) commissioning. The important highlights of this work include:

Franz designed and Gray manufactured a handling fixture for the VATT Spectrograph. This fixture will be used to transport the 250lb instrument from the instrument room to the observing floor as well as serving as a tool for safe mounting of the instrument to the Telescope.

Duffek and Harvey designed a test for determining the Altitude axis moment of inertia. This information was needed to evaluate whether the Altitude axis brake had enough braking torque to stop the axis with the VATT Spectrograph mounted on the Telescope should a runaway condition occur. After evaluating the data, the moment of inertia is 35,875 lb-ft-sec2 which translates into a 1.6s deceleration from full slew. This is a very safe stop for personnel and the primary mirror.

Johnson backed up all Xterminal configurations, DNS name and addresses onto a flash drive. This is part of our ongoing documentation updates and recovery system.

Johnson upgraded the VATT Spectrograph GUI to include the dark slide status after Duffek designed new electronics to control this stage. A safety issue found during testing prompted the re-design of the original Astronomical Consultants and Equipment Inc. controller.

Franz designed and Gray manufactured new controller mounts to re-locate the guide camera and 4K-CCD controllers. The existing mounting scheme for these controllers interfered with the Spectrograph.

Harvey, Johnson, and Boyle have continued observer training and support during the observing season.


General News of VATT - 2010

The technical work at the Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope continued in 2010 under Bob Peterson, Steward Observatory’s assistant director of mountain operations, and Ken Duffek, the VATT manager. Christopher Corbally, remains director for the VATT, while Richard Boyle, is the telescope scientist and scheduler. Michael Franz, Dave Harvey, Chris Johnson, and Gary Gray comprise the rest of the VATT’s regular engineering team.

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Contact Us

Richard P. Boyle, S.J.
VATT Telescope Scientist

Tel: +1 (0)520 621 3230


Christopher J. Corbally, S.J.
President of the National Committee to IAU

Tel: +1 (0)520 621 3225


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