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Job Opportunities within LT Group for New Robotic Telescope 09 October 2017
LT and NRT
Liverpool Telescope (left) and impression of New Robotic Telescope (right).
© 2015 J.Marchant/LT Group

Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU) owns and operates the 2.0 metre fully autonomous Liverpool Telescope on La Palma in the Canary Islands. Working with international partners we now intend to build a 4.0 metre class robotic telescope on the same site.

We are seeking experienced personnel to fill two 5-year fixed-term positions of Project Manager (Vacancy Ref. 2045) and Lead Engineer (Vacancy Ref. 2046). Salary for both posts will be in the range £39,993 – £49,149 per annum.

The Project Manager will take responsibility for managing cost, quality, risk and schedule in the delivery of the telescope and its enclosure. They will organize and monitor the delivery of effort within LJMU and in external partners and companies as well as establishing and maintaining systems of document management, change control and interface control. They will also take responsibility for integrating project delivery within existing LJMU processes and systems in areas of governance, finance, procurement and legal and manage contractual relationships with partner and supplier organisations.

The Lead Engineer will lead all engineering activity related to the development of the telescope and its enclosure. They will identify and manage the delivery of effort within the LJMU engineering team, external partners and companies as well as carrying out System Engineering responsibilities and contributing their own discipline-specific expertise to the design. They will also take ownership of the Health and Safety aspects of the project.

For both posts the closing date for applications will be midnight at the end of Friday 3rd November 2017.

For informal enquiries, please contact Liverpool Telescope Director Professor Iain Steele, at I.A.Steele@ljmu.ac.uk

For full details on these posts and to apply online, please see the LJMU Vacancies page, or these direct links:

Liverpool Telescope project shortlisted for Research Project of the Year 04 October 2017
Shortlisted for THE Awards 2017 Research Project of the Year: STEM logo

Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU) is one of six institutions shortlisted for Research Project of the Year: STEM in this year's Times Higher Awards.

The nomination has been awarded for the use of the SPRAT spectrograph in the study of the unique recurrent nova M31N 2008-12a in the Andromeda Galaxy. SPRAT (SPectrograph for the Rapid Analysis of Transients) was designed and built in late 2014 by the LJMU telescope group. It uses volume phase holographic gratings to maximise efficiency and has proved to be a powerful tool for transient classification with minimal human intervention.

Novae are binary systems consisting of a white dwarf that is accreting material from its companion star. The build-up of material on the surface of the white dwarf eventually leads to a thermonuclear explosion. Some so-called recurrent novae show repeated nova eruptions, but until recently the fastest recurrence timescales were in the tens of years, with the typical timescale being much longer. M31N 2008-12a has a nova eruption every year — an unprecedented recurrence timescale. The research team at LJMU's Astrophysics Research Institute, along with their collaborators, have demonstrated this is due to the combination of a huge companion star and the most massive white dwarf ever detected in such a system, leading to an extremely rapid mass transfer rate. The high cadence spectroscopy from SPRAT has been crucial in understanding the nature of this object, and it is predicted to be the first of a whole new class of "rapid recurrent novae". Since the nova event does not completely eject the accreted material, the white dwarf continues to increase in mass, with a catastrophic Supernova Ia event being its eventual fate. The conservative upper limit on the timescale for this event is 20,000 years.

The awards ceremony will be held at the Grosvenor House Hotel in London on 30th November. The ARI previously won this award in 2007 for its RINGO optical polarimeter instrument on the LT.

Spectacular pictures added to LT Picture Gallery 26 July 2017
A small sample of the 70+ LT images submitted to the Gallery. © 2017 Göran Nilsson and Wim van Berlo.

An album of over seventy spectacular pictures made from LT data has just been added to the LT Picture Gallery. Follow this link to the new album on Flickr.

The pictures were made by taking archived greyscale IO:O data that had been observed through effectively red, green and blue filters, and combining them in various ways to produce colour images. Most of the original data had been requested over the years by UK schools via the National Schools' Observatory

This skilful post-processing was performed by Swedish amateur astrophotographers Göran Nilsson and Wim van Berlo.

Göran is a professor in animal physiology at the University of Oslo, and Wim is a physics and mathematics teacher in Stockholm. Both have been interested in astronomy and astrophotography for some time; Göran even built his own observatory in the Swedish countryside in 2014.

Living so far north has its drawbacks however when it comes to astrophotography in the summer. "During a four month period, from May through August, the sun hardly sets below the horizon, and it doesn’t get dark," says Wim. Göran, situated even further north, has the same experience: "The long light summer nights make astrophotography impossible for several months," he says.

To have something astronomy-related to do during this time, the two decided to use their growing astrophotography skills to process exposures that were freely available from the Liverpool Telescope's Data Archive. Together they sifted through all available data for each of the objects they chose, stacking and combining the frames. Göran used the program Nebulosity for stacking, following up with Adobe Photoshop for final contrast enhancements that reveal hitherto unseen fine detail. Wim performed the same tasks entirely with the single package PixInsight.

The result is over seventy stunning full-colour pictures of famous and some not-so-famous astronomical objects. We are certainly delighted with the pictures, and thank Göran and Wim for allowing us to host their work on our website.

Further imagery by Göran can be found on the astrophotography image hosting service Astrobin, while both Göran and Wim can be found at the Stargazers Lounge forum.

Useful links:

New filter for RISE 11 July 2017

RISE mechanical model

[UPDATE (26 July): The filter has now been changed. See the RISE instrument page for further details.]

The RISE fast-readout camera is having its "V+R" filter replaced with a 720 nm long-pass filter on 26th July 2017. This is being done to enhance the capabilities of the camera with regard to measurement of exoplanet transits around late-type, red dwarf stars.

More details of the filter switch can be found in the filter section of the RISE instrument page here.

Quicker Daily Data Flow and Weekend Data Releases 5 July 2017
pipe installation
© Tomas Castelazo, www.tomascastelazo.com / Wikimedia Commons /
CC BY-SA 4.0

Regular telescope users may have noticed their daily data releases are coming a little earlier than in the past. Our data handling procedures have been updated to speed things up. Though the LT is designed to all be fully automated, to date we have deliberately inserted one manual break-point in the data flow such that after all the data are pipeline processed they are not released to you until one of us has had a look through all the night’s data as a quality assurance check. Experience has shown however that for the few occasions when this procedure has identified an instrument failure there are very many cases where we were unnecessarily delaying distribution of time sensitive data. Our new policy therefore is to release all data into the science archive as soon as possible each morning.

All science data are now typically available in both the Recent Data and searchable science archives between 09:30 and 10:30 UTC on the morning after they were observed. You will continue, as now, to get an email as soon as the data are available. Having removed the human interaction from the process, the data releases are now also being made seven days a week.

Those who use RISE at a high frame rate over several hours to generate large data sets may find their data arrive a little later than the estimate above. This is simply limited by the bandwidth from La Palma back to Liverpool. The data will be released as soon as the entire night’s observations have been transferred.

We are only here talking about the final science-ready archived data reductions. Quicklook continues to operate as before for those who need real-time, intra-night access to the data as soon as they are observed.

Besides better serving the time domain astrophysics community, there is one very obvious side effect to this change. We in the LT operations team will no longer see every frame taken and there is greater risk of telescope or instrument faults going un-noticed. The LT has a very wide array of in-house developed, automated telemetry processes that continually monitor system performance for us from hydraulic oil temperatures, through on-sky pointing residuals, instrument amplifier read noise and final archive image quality. These autonomous systems are effective at alerting us to many possible error states, but they will not detect everything. We are therefore now becoming much more dependent on you, the telescope users, to help run the observatory efficiently. We encourage all observers to routinely look at their new data and contact us about any problems you see. This is not only about technical faults. We have in the past been able to alert observers to mistakes in their phase 2 configurations that were revealed by poor data quality. Now the responsibility for ensuring that the data match expectations rests more heavily on all observers for their own data. We are always happy to advise on how best to exploit the telescope facilities if you get in touch to discuss your science objectives.