Thursday, 2 February 2017

Rehearsals aren't just for the theatre

We all know that actors rehearse, but did you know that telescopes rehearse as well? Large telescopes and surveys often rehearse the process of choosing targets, observing, and analysing the data so that they can be well prepared for the real thing.

Its a process that is particularly relevant with large surveys where efficient scheduling of observations is necessary to observe as many targets as possible in the time available. Modern telescopes also produce an incredibly large amount of data, sometimes many terabytes per night, and transferring this data from the telescope to different universities, and then processing and storing it all can be quite a mammoth task! Practising this process in advance allows potential issues to be identified and ensures that when the telescope is up and running the process proceeds smoothly.

The William Herschel Telescope
(Credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Most of the last month of my time has been spent preparing for an "Operational Rehearsal" for the WEAVE spectrograph being built for the William Herschel Telescope in the Canary Islands. This is quite an endeavour, as we're simulating over a week of observations on the telescope, which requires everyone involved to produce simulated target lists and spectra for them.

The goal of this work isn't just that the telescope operators and survey team will be able to experience the day-to-day running of the survey, its also so that the survey science teams become familiar with the process of supplying targets for the observations.

And so for the last month I've been busy simulating "fake" target lists, preparing "fake" spectra for those targets, and assembling everything into the format needed by the survey organisers and telescope operators. Its been quite a task, but hopefully it'll be useful for everyone involved in the survey to have gone through this rehearsal and learnt from it.