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ssp_procedures

This is a draft version of the procedures for remote, real-time observing at TMO during SSP 2023. THIS IS A WORK IN PROGRESS. last edited: 2 July 2023

Remote Observing Center

SSP NMSU 2023 will be using the 24“B&C telescope at Tortugas Mountain Observatory. Observing will be done from Astronomy Building Rm 119, a.k.a. the TMO Remote Observing Center, a.k.a. the ROC.

Observing Team Responsibilities

It is the team's responsibility to have their observing log prep work complete and uploaded before dinner on the night they are observing. Missing, incomplete, or late prep work may result in the cancellation of your observing shift!

The Astronomy Building is locked at night. It is the team's responsibility to be loitering outside the doors no later than 5 minutes before your shift starts. The TA on shift will let you into the building.

There are three general jobs during an observing shift. These jobs should rotate amongst team members from one shift to the next.

  1. Observatory control: Responsible for running the control computer - controlling the telescope and the camera, making sure data is saved to the correct directory, etc. This is done from a dedicated laptop which the TA on shift will bring to the ROC.
  2. Observing log: Responsible for entering data in the digital observing log in real time. Bring your laptop with you to the observing session to enter data in real time.
  3. Weather monitoring: Responsible for monitor the current weather conditions. In addition to the weather station status on the remote computer, Bring your laptop with you to monitor the weather and periodically go outside to actually look at the sky.

Connecting to TMO

Use VNC Viewer on the dedicated ROC laptop to connect to tmo.nmsu.edu. Log in should happen automatically. The VNC Viewer is pinned to the taskbar on the dedicated ROC laptop.

The Remote Computer

Start the necessary software on the remote computer (icons are left-to-right across the top of the remote desktop)

  1. Focus Max (talks to the focuser)
  2. SiTech (talks to the telescope/mount; This should start automatically when Focus Max starts)
  3. ClarityII (weather monitor)
  4. Cloud Sensor (weather history)
  5. MaxIm DL (talks to the camera)
  6. ACP (talks to the dome & everything)

Keep an eye on things at TMO

There should always be an open browser window with two tabs with views from two IR cameras. They use IR lights to see what's going on without messing up your observations. If the views are completely dark, click the “on” button on the left to turn on the IR lights. This web browser is always open. You can minimize it, but don't close it!

Connect to the telescope

  1. Use the setup tab in MaxIm DL to 'Connect all'. If only the large MaximDL window is open, click the small button that looks like an observatory (eighth from the left on the row of buttons)
  2. Connect to telescope in ACP using the Telescope drop-down for good measure.
  3. Upon connection, telescope's park position is displayed in the SiTech window. It should be at HA = -2h; dec = 0deg.
  4. If the SiTech status says 'Uninitialized,' Observing TA should contact Dr. R or Zach or Prof. Holtzman.

Connect to the camera

  1. Use the Camera drop-down in the ACP window to connect to the camera. (This step will also open the Camera Control window in MaxIm DL.)
  2. This may take a few seconds. Be patient. (A vestigial window with camera name opens upon successful connection.)
  3. Once the cameras are connected, turn on the cooler for camera 1. The cooler is under the “setup” tab in camera control. The default set to -12 deg C.

Open the dome


The dome should only be opened if you're positive it's not raining and not about to start raining.


  1. Use ACP Dome Control to open the dome.
  2. Once open, the dome should slave to the telescope.
  3. If there's a shutter error, try rotating the dome.

Check pointing


First team of the night should definitely do this. We need to make sure the telescope knows where its pointing. Subsequent teams, do this only if telescope doesn't seem to be pointing where it should.


  1. Slew to asteroid coordinates first, using GoToSync in the SiTech window. You may need to unpark your telescope first by clicking Start to allow the telescope to start tracking.
  2. Select FindBrightStar.vbs script in ACP window by clicking the “Select the Script” button, and click “Run”.
  3. Enter filter #2 at prompt. Type `2` into the prompt when flashing.
  4. Let it do its thing. Windows may pop up and disappear; do not do anything until the dialog box in ACP says “Star is now centered in view”

Focus the telescope


Every team should run a focus routine at least once, even if the focus 'looks OK.' Repeat as often as necessary. Focus changes with air temperature! The automatic procedure below uses an ACP automated script. Try that first. If it works, great. If it doesn't work, you have your three focus stars the choose from for the backup manual procedure.


Automatic Procedure (optional)

  1. Slew to one of your predetermined focus stars. To slew, use the “Gotosync” tab (the tabs run down the right side) on the SiTech window, and enter in the desired RA and DEC, and click “GoTo” (do not use the Sync button). Make sure to use sexagecimal format for RA and dec. (hours:minutes:seconds for RA)
  2. Select AutoFocus.vbs script in ACP window by pressing the “Select the Script”, and select “Run”
  3. Let the AutoFocus script do its thing. Various windows will pop up, don't close them. The ACP dialog box will tell you the autofocus failed or succeeded upon completion of the script.
  4. Telescope seems to stop tracking after AutoFocus script completes. Watch the status in the SiTech window and start tracking again if this happens.
  5. With the AutoFocus.vbs script, the filter is automatically selected to be the SR (Sloan Red) filter. The filters on the camera are not parfocal, so focusing in one filter does not focus in another filter. If you use the autofocus, use the SR filter for the rest of your observations.

Manual Procedure

  1. Slew (back) to one of your predetermined focus stars.
  2. Set the camera to the filter you will be using for your observations, under camera control (“filter wheel” under the expose tab)
  3. Make sure the telescope is tracking and not stopped. If not tracking, hit start and “GoTo” do not use the “Sync” button.
  4. Take a single exposure with the camera.
  5. Find the subframe box in camera control (in the expose tab): turn it 'on' and hit `mouse` and draw a square around the bright star. Out of focus stars might look like donuts. (If you need to exit the zoomed in image in MaxIm, turn it back off and take a new exposure)
  6. Set the camera control to continuous exposures, and press start. If you open screen stretch dialog box in Maxim DL, you can get the maximum pixel value, and also adjust the saturation of the image.
  7. In the FocusMax panel, click “Jog” (on the left side) and increment in or out by approximately 100 (though you can change this number depending on how out of focus the telescope seems).
  8. If the image has improved, continue to increment in that direction. If the image worsens, increment in the opposite direction.
  9. Continue to increment, decreasing the step size until you've reached a focus level you are satisfied with.

Take your time with this step. A good focus means crisp images, which will result in better astrometry.

Find your asteroid

  1. Slew to your asteroid - use the “Gotosync” tab on the SiTech window, and put in the RA and DEC of your asteroid for the time closest to the current time.
  2. Use the Expose tab in the Camera Control Window in MaxIm DL to take a single quick exposure to confirm field of view with your finding chart.
  3. If necessary, use Nudge Telescope in the ACP window to center the asteroid's predicted location in the image. For scale, the full field of view is about 36×24 arcmin.

Take your time with this step. Placing the asteroid near the center of the frame will make things easier.

Begin guiding (optional)

  1. Use the Guide tab in the Camera Control window in MaxIm DL to take a single 10-sec exposure.
  2. MaxIm DL will automatically select the brightest star in the frame, or you can select a different star by clicking on it.
  3. Switch from Expose to Track and click Start.

Take data


Temperature Check - Before you take any science or calibration images, check the camera temperature in the middle dialog box in the Camera Control window in MaxIm DL. If the Cooler Power is at 100%, but the temperature has not reached the temperature setpoint, you're exceeding the maximum capability of the cooler and you'll need to set a warmer temperature. If the camera is cooled and the power is at or greater than 90%, you may want to increase the setpoint. It's better to have a slightly warmer but stable temperature than a slightly cooler but struggling to keep up situation.


IR Interference - Don't forget to turn off the IR lamp in the window that monitors the telescope and dome, especially if you are planning to take data with the Clear/Open filter.


  1. Click on the expose tab in Camera Control, and switch from Single to Autosave.
  2. To access the Autosave setup window, press the “Autosave” button.
  3. In the Autosave setup window, click Options to set the path directory for saving images.
  4. Employ a clear directory structure! There is a Documents/Observations/SSP folder which contains sub-folders for every observing team. All your data goes there. Be very careful and consistent about telling MaxIm DL what to name your images and where to put them! It is recommended to at least make a new folder for each night. Make a new folder by clicking the yellow button on top right of the folder
  5. Under Autosave Filename, give a reasonable prefix for your images. Also choose a proper suffix for your image(s)
  6. Set the binning to 2 (binning will always be 2)
  7. Click Apply, then OK.
  8. In the Camera Control window, click start.
  9. Let's start with a series of data. In the autosave menu, activate one of the lines to take a series of five 1-min exposures of your asteroid. Select the type “Light” and the filter you focused with. Choose the proper exposure time, binning (always 2), and number of repeats. Update the suffix to your liking.
  10. When you get a chance, check the local filesystem through the vnc to make sure your data is saved where you wanted it to. After ~15 minutes, check the web link to make sure your remote data has been uploaded.
  11. Repeat for series of 5 darks. IMPORTANT: There is no shutter with the CMOS camera, so for darks you need to use the dark filter. To take darks in the autosave setup, select the type “Light,” and choose the “Dark” filter. Take a series of darks for each exposure length you're using. Don't forget to update the suffix to your liking.
  12. Let's take more data now! In the autosave menu, activate a line to take a series of five 1-min exposures. Repeat the same workflow as above, selecting type “Light” and the filter you focused with. Choose the proper exposure time, binning (always 2), and number of repeats.
  13. Right before the end of your shift, take another series of data.

If at all possible, locate your asteroid in the raw image(s) and make note of its (x,y) pixel location in a particular image. This will make it much easier to find it again when you're analyzing the data afterwards.

When you're done

1st and 2nd shifts should

  1. Set the camera to take “single” exposures.
  2. Leave the camera cooled for the next team.
  3. If applicable, stop the guiding (guide tab of camera control)
  4. Rearrange the windows in an orderly way (see the screenshot above).
  5. Park the telescope (SiTech, under the “Scope” tab).

The last team of the night should completely shut things down

  1. If applicable, stop the guiding (guide tab of camera control)
  2. Close out any images in Maxim DL you took (keep the main Maxim DL window still open)
  3. Set the camera to take “single” exposures.
  4. Rearrange the windows in an orderly way (see the screenshot above).
  5. Close the dome (ACP)
  6. Park the dome (ACP)
  7. Park the telescope (SiTech, under the “Scope” tab)
  8. Stop the telescope (SiTech)
  9. Turn off the infrared lights in the dome (turn them off on both tabs).
  10. Turn off the camera cooler (MaxIm DL Camera Control)

Getting flat fields

Enter details here.

Accessing your data

  1. Data is automatically copied from TMO back to a nmsu astronomy computer on campus.
  2. You can access your data here. But right-clicking on every single image seems onorous.
  3. (Enter details about using the wget command frmo the Windows command line.)
  4. Do not mess with anyone's images except your team's.
  5. Do not trust the laptops' hard drives. Also copy your data to a thumb drive. Also copy your data to your own Google Drive or similar as you see fit.

Troubleshooting


Stars are streaking significantly on a short exposure

  1. For this issue the stars will be streaking signficantly on a <1 minute-long exposure. To resolve, you need to jog the telescope a bit.
  2. Navigate to the “Scope” tab in SiTech.
  3. Click the “^^” button twice (this button is above the square “Guid” button).
  4. Take another short exposure, checking if the streaking continues
  5. If the streaking is still there, try clicking the “^^” button again.
  6. Once you've solved this, take a short exposure, and compare it to your star chart, ensuring that you haven't moved the telescope too far. Also, check the SiTech window to make sure the telescope is still tracking after doing this.
ssp_procedures.txt · Last modified: 2023/07/06 07:29 by ssp

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