SDSS Plates as Art in Nashville, Tennessee

Check out these cool art pieces made from SDSS spectroscopic plates!  Nashville based artist, Adrienne Outlaw, designed and built them and they will be exhibited in various locations at Vanderbilt University over the next year. The pictures show their first installation, just in time for the Inclusive Astronomy meeting that started yesterday. The concept design was done by Adrienne Outlaw in collaboration with Vanderbilt astronomers David Weintraub and Billy Teets, and the project was funded by Vanderbilt University’s Curb Creative Campus program.

If you want to learn more about what these plates are, and see them in other art installations please see this previous post on SDSS plates.

We love seeing images of SDSS plates around the world. Please send any you find to us via social media (you can find us on Facebook, Twitter and Google+), or email to outreach ‘at’ sdss.org.

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APOGEE-South: Plate-Pluggers and Tripods – APOGEE-Sur: Conexión de Placas y Trípodes

Recently, a small group of astronomers from Chile has been visiting Apache Point Observatory. Their job will be to assist with operations at APOGEE-South, which is being built for the Irénée du Pont telescope at Las Campanas Observatory. Introducing: Christian Nitschelm, a faculty member at Universidad de Antofagasta; Andrés Almeida, a Masters student from Universidad Andrés Bello; and Jaime Vargas, Masters student at Universidad de La Serena.

Recientemente, un pequeño grupo de astrónomos de Chile ha estado visitando el Observatorio Apache Point (APO por sus siglas en Inglés). Su trabajo consistirá en ayudar con las operaciones en APOGEE-Sur, que se está construyendo para el telescopio Irénée du Pont en el Observatorio Las Campanas. Presentamos a: Christian Nitschelm, profesor en la Universidad de Antofagasta; Andrés Almeida, un estudiante de Maestría de la Universidad Andrés Bello; y Jaime Vargas, estudiante de Maestría de la Universidad de La Serena.

Jamie (left) Christian (center), and Andres (right), unplugging an APOGEE plate after observations. Jamie (a la izquierda), Christian (al centro), y Andrés (a la derecha), desconectando las fibras ópticas de una placa de APOGEE después de las observaciones.

Jamie (a la izquierda), Christian (al centro), y Andrés (a la derecha), desconectando una placa de APOGEE después de las observaciones.
Jamie (left) Christian (center), and Andres (right), unplugging an APOGEE plate after observations.

While at APO, Jamie, Christian, and Andres are learning a number of important skills that they will take back to Las Campanas Observatory. This includes plugging and unplugging plates:

Mientras tanto en el APO, Jamie, Christian y Andrés están aprendiendo una serie de técnicas importantes que llevarán al Observatorio Las Campanas. Esto incluye conectar y desconectar las placas:

Christian and Jamie seen here plugging fibers into a plug plate. Christian y Jaime se ven aquí conectando las fibras en una placa de conexión.

Christian y Jaime se ven aquí conectando las fibras ópticas en una placa de conexión.
Christian and Jamie seen here plugging fibers into a plug plate.

They are also learning to use the new Mock Up and Training Facility tripod, cartridge, and dolly (seen below). This setup will be sent down to Universidad de La Serena so that this crew can train future support staff.

También están aprendiendo a usar la maqueta y trípode de capacitación, el cartucho y carro (observados a continuación). Esta configuración se enviará a la Universidad de La Serena para que este equipo de trabajo pueda entrenar el personal de apoyo futuro.

Christian and Jamie swapping out a plug plate cartridge with the Mock Up and Training Facility tripod (the big steel frame), cartridge (the blue object suspended from the tripod) and dolly, which will be used to transport plug plates to and from the telescope. Christian y Jaime intercambiando el cartucho de la placa conexión con la maqueta y el trípode de capacitación (la estructura de acero grande), el cartucho (el objeto azul suspendido del trípode) y el carro, que será utilizado para transportar las placas de conexión hacia y desde el telescopio.

Christian y Jaime intercambiando el cartucho de la placa conexión con la maqueta y el trípode de capacitación (la estructura de acero grande), el cartucho (el objeto azul suspendido del trípode) y el carro, que será utilizado para transportar las placas de conexión hacia y desde el telescopio.
Christian and Jamie swapping out a plug plate cartridge with the Mock Up and Training Facility tripod (the big steel frame), cartridge (the blue object suspended from the tripod) and dolly, which will be used to transport plug plates to and from the telescope.

“Torquing” the plug plate slightly is a necessary skill so that it aligns with the field of curvature of the telescope. Using a ring around the plate (shown being attached below), the plate can be bent ever so slightly:

“Torcer” ligeramente la placa de conexión es una habilidad necesaria para alinear la placa con el campo de curvatura del telescopio. Usando un anillo alrededor de la placa (mas abajo se ve como se engancha), ésta se puede doblar ligeramente:

Christian and Andres attaching the bending ring around the plate. Christian y Andrés enganchan el anillo de flexión alrededor de la placa.

Christian y Andrés enganchan el anillo de flexión alrededor de la placa.
Christian and Andres attaching the bending ring around the plate.

And, of course, it is important to check your work. In this case, a computer is used to map the locations of fibers on the plate, ensuring that they will be on target when the plug plate is used on the telescope:

Y, por supuesto, es importante revisar su trabajo. En este caso, se utiliza un ordenador para mapear las ubicaciones de fibras en la placa, asegurando que van apuntar al objeto cuando la placa de conexión se use en el telescopio:

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Christian utiliza una computadora para medir el perfil de la placa de conexión después de que ha sido mapeada. Esto asegurará que la placa ha sido “torcida” correctamente.
Christian using a computer to measure the profile of the plug plate after it has been mapped. This will ensure that they have “torqued” the plate properly.

Jamie is enjoying his new skills set! Here, he is drawing an overlay on a plug plate to prepare it for plugging. ¡Jaime disfruta de sus nuevas habilidades! Aquí está dibujando una superposición en una placa de conexión para prepararla para la conexión.

¡Jaime disfruta de sus nuevas habilidades! Aquí está dibujando una superposición en una placa de conexión para prepararla para la conexión.
Jamie is enjoying his new skills set! Here, he is drawing an overlay on a plug plate to prepare it for plugging.

SDSS Plates for Education

Here at SDSS we’re working on a new educational initiative, where teachers and informal educators will be able to take back to their classroom their very own piece of SDSS history – an actual SDSS plate which was used to map a small patch of the night sky.

We have been developing a “Plate packet” to distribute to teachers and educators. This packet contains an SDSS plate, along with a custom made poster showing the SDSS image of the region of sky the plate was designed for, as well as some selected educational materials, and links to specially designed activities on SDSS Voyages.

Certificate handed out with each plate.

Certificate handed out with each plate.

On Saturday 30th May 2015, SDSS Members from the University of Washington handed out the first plates to a group of  teachers representing high schools from around the western Washington, USA. These teachers spent the day at the in Seattle discussing ideas for using the plates in their classrooms, as well as getting a tour of the machine shop, where all the SDSS plates are manufactured.

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“Hard at Work”: SDSS Member Oliver Fraser (pink shirt) shows some educators how to find the data from their plates and use it for classroom investigations. A plate poster can be seen on the board in back. Credit: Danielle Skinner

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“Yay Plates!”: some happy educators (and SDSS Member, Danielle Skinner in black) excited to be taking their very own SDSS plates back to their schools. Credit: Oliver Fraser.

The University of Washington is already planning more such workshops, and we look forward to expanding this program to other SDSS Member Institutions.


If you’re a teacher or educator reading this and interested to know how you can get your own SDSS plate, please contact the outreach representative at your nearest SDSS Institution, or email outreach ‘at’ sdss.org for assistance doing that. SDSS members interested in getting involved in this programme should join the EPO mailing list (details on the password protected collaboration wiki). 

Job Posting: University of Washington Machine Shop Manager

The University of Washington Physics Instrument Shop is looking for a new shop manager.  This is the machine shop which builds the SDSS plug plates, fiber systems, and a number of our other instrumentation and telescope equipment for SDSS, APO 3.5 m, and soon LCO. This shop is a key part of SDSS operations.

Position Description

The Instrument Shop Manager is responsible for the daily operations of a 5 FTE research and development machine shop with an $850,000 annual budget.  The Instrument Shop provides clients (primarily scientists) with both one-of-a-kind and production instruments.  The manager is solely responsible for assessing each client’s request, estimating the amount of time and effort to complete the job, assigning the job to the staff persons whose abilities and experience best fit the request and scheduling the job.  The Manager is the line supervisor for 5 FTE – selecting, hiring, evaluating and disciplining employees as necessary.   The Manager ensures that the proper tooling and materials are on hand for each job, that machines are maintained and repaired and that the workplace is safe. The Manager works closely with faculty, staff and students on their research projects.  Many experiments involve instruments that are not available ‘off the shelf’ and are custom designed for each particular experiment or project.  Faculty, staff and students depend upon the Manager to review their ideas and ensure that the devices are buildable and suggest modifications that may result in a better instrument or make it easier to produce.

Link to the job posting. 

You can get an idea of what goes on in this shop in this video of SDSS plate production

SDSS Scientists in Europe Enjoy #eclipse2015

SDSS collaboration members in Europe have enjoyed a partial solar eclipse today (20th March 2015).

At least two groups planned to project the eclipse through SDSS plates (as have been done previously for the October 2014 eclipse). Sadly Portsmouth was clouded out, but in St. Andrews the experiment was a success.

The European #eclipse2015 viewed through an SDSS plate. Credit: Rita Tojeiro.

The European #eclipse2015 viewed through an SDSS plate. Credit: Rita Tojeiro (St Andrews).

Observing the Partial Solar Eclipse with an SDSS Plate

An SDSS plate was reused to wonderful effect this week, as a pinhole camera to project 640 simultaneous images of the recent partial solar eclipse on 23rd October 2014.

Sarah Ballard (@hubbahubble) and Woody Sullivan, from SDSS member institution, the University of Washington in Seattle came up with this unique idea to observe the solar eclipse.

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Putting an SDSS plate to use as an eclipse viewer. Credit: Sarah Ballard and Woody Sullivan (Univ. of Washington).

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640 images of the 23rd October 2014 partial solar eclipse. Credit: Woody Sullivan and Sarah Ballard (Univ. of Washington).

For more lovely or unusual eclipse photos, see this Solar Eclipse Roundup, by Sky and Telescope, who selected Sarah and Woody’s method as their “best use of old technology” for viewing the eclipse.

SDSS Plates

The SDSS has used thousands of plug plates in its fourteen year history. These are large aluminium plates into which tiny holes are drilled. Each hole has an optical fibre plugged into it (by hand by our plate pluggers). Each hole corresponds to the sky location where there is an object (a star or a galaxy) which SDSS wants to measure a spectrum for.

During SDSS spectroscopic observations, between six and nine of these are used every night. Each plate is custom drilled for a special part of the sky (about the size of your palm stretched out at arms length), and once all the data is collected for the astronomical objects in that plate, it becomes surplus to requirements.

All SDSS Collaboration members can request that used plates be sent to them (contact your Collaboration Council Representative for assistance with this). This has resulted in some interesting uses for the leftover plates across our diverse collaboration.

You might like to mount your plates on the wall for display.

A wall mounted plate at the Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation, Portsmouth, UK.

A wall mounted plate at the Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation, Portsmouth, UK. Image credit: Karen Masters

SDSS plates on display at CCAPP (Center for Cosmology and Astrophysics), Ohio State University. Image credit: Qingqing Mao.

SDSS plates on display at CCAPP (Center for Cosmology and Astrophysics), Ohio State University. Image credit: Qingqing Mao.

If doing this, it is helpful to have a good description as a guide. This is especially helpful if you are donating a plate to a local science museum or other location away from SDSS collaboration members who know what it is. The example below was made for a display of plate 825 by Jordan Raddick from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

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To make a version of Jordan’s information sheet tailored for your own plate you can find the sky co-ordinates of your plate in this List of plate observation dates and centres. Then visit the Skyserver Navigate Tool to find an image at this location. You will likely want to invert the images, zoom out to the second largest scale, and overlay the plate location (all under “Drawing Options” to the right of the screen). You can then use Google sky to work out roughly which constellation this plate is in (unless you happen to know!), and the constellation maps are available from the IAU. To convert the MJD of observation to something understandable you might like this MJD converter.

We have a second example of plate display information from David Kirkby at UC Irvine. Here David has made an overlay of the SDSS imaging and coloured marks corresponding to the holes in BOSS plate 6640 (green for galaxies and purple for quasars), as well as an 3D representation of the distances to these objects (based on their SDSS measured redshifts).

An overlay for Plate 6640 showing both SDSS imaging and the location of drilled holes (green = galaxies; purple = quasars). Image credit: David Kirkby.

An overlay for Plate 6640 showing both SDSS imaging and the location of drilled holes (green = galaxies; purple = quasars). Image credit: David Kirkby.

A visualisation of the 3D structure behind BOSS plate 6640 based on redshifts measured by SDSS. Image credit: David Kirkby.

A visualisation of the 3D structure behind BOSS plate 6640 based on redshifts measured by SDSS. Image credit: David Kirkby.

It’s possible to back light wall mounted plates in some circumstances, to really nice effect. The below example was made by Mark Klaene at Apache Point Observatory.

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Mounted in the corner of Mark Klaene’s office at APO. It is spray painted black with a fluorescent desk lamp back light.

If you’re lucky you might find a natural source of light for this effect, as in this example where Stephen Bailey from LBL has mounted a plate in the window in his office door.

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SDSS Plate in an Office Door (the hole was there already).

Several collaboration members have used plates to make special coffee tables, or coffee table covers.

The most basic version of this is just placing a plate on top of a round coffee table of similar diameter.

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Coffee table topper by Bob Nichol, ICG Portsmouth.

This second one uses a 36″ round glass top table topped with a plate. Bumpers have been added to the plate and the normal glass top placed on top of it. The lighting shown below is from a single puck from a modular LED lighting system.

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Coffee table with under lighting by Brian Lee from SDSS-II.

At JHU they have made two coffee tables with the SDSS plates. The base is a hollow box made from scratch of four wood pieces and there is a lamp inside so at night you can see the light shining through the slits.

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Custom coffee table at JHU. Credit: Ting-Wen Lan, Murdock Hart, Guangtun Zhu and Brice Ménard. Photo courtesy of Zheng (Jared) Zheng.

SDSS Plug Plate Coffee Tables in use at JHU. Image credit: Gail Zasowski

SDSS Plug Plate Coffee Tables in use at JHU. Image credit: Gail Zasowski

Plates have also been used to make lab demos. The below is an example set up which LBL has to give quick demos.

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SDSS Plate Demo at LBL.

SDSS plates have also been used to make works of art. The most well know is work by Josiah McElheny in collaboration with David Weinberg (also described here and in this NYTimes Article).

Sculpture by Josiah McElheny using SDSS plug plate. Image provided by David Weinberg.

Sculpture by Josiah McElheny using SDSS plug plate. Image provided by David Weinberg.sdss

 

Sarah Ruether, an artist from Seattle and London based artist Xavier Poultney have also made artwork using plates.

Public art by Sarah Ruether made from SDSS-II plug plates

Public art by Sarah Ruether made from SDSS-II plug plates

Plate Artwork by Xavier Poultney as part of his Transient Objects exhibit.

Plate Artwork by Xavier Poultney as part of his Transient Objects exhibit.

If you have other examples of interesting uses of SDSS plates please let us know about them by commenting below, or emailing outreach@sdss.org.

See how the plates are drilled at the SDSS Plate Drilling Labs at the University of Washington in Seattle:

See how the optical fibres are plugged into a BOSS plate by our awesome SDSS plate pluggers (at Apache Point Observatory):

MaNGA’s First Galaxies

A post by Anne-Marie Weijmans, the MaNGA Lead Observer: 

Last month MaNGA (Mapping Nearby Galaxies at APO) had its first commissioning run at Apache Point Observatory, with its first installed cartridge. MaNGA is part of SDSS-IV and scheduled to start observing in July of this year, but it now already has its first galaxies in hand!

MaNGA is an integral-field spectroscopy survey, which will map the motions and properties of stars and gas in 10,000 galaxies. By grouping fibers together into integral-field units, MaNGA obtains spectra not just of the centre of the galaxy, but also its outskirts, covering the whole galaxy. This means that we can measure properties of stars, such as age and metallicity, over a large surface area in the galaxy, and based on that, figure out how these galaxies were assembled. We also are able to measure the velocities of the stars, which in turn tells us about the structure of the galaxy, and how much dark matter is present. From the gas, we learn about the radiation present in the galaxy: is the gas energized by young stars (indicating that there is on-going star formation), by an active black hole, or both? Combining all these different sets of information, we form a picture of how different galaxies form, and evolve over time.

Niv and Nick installing the cartridge

MaNGA chief engineer Nick MacDonald (UW) and instrument scientist Niv Drory (UT at Austin) inspecting the first MaNGA cartridge, before mounting it to the telescope (credit: A. Weijmans).

MaNGA instrument scientist Niv Drory (UT at Austin) and chief engineer Nick MacDonald (UW) prepared the cartridge, carefully adding the MaNGA integral-field units and making sure that the surfaces of the fibers were clean to optimize their light throughput. The observers at APO, together with MaNGA lead observer Anne-Marie Weijmans and several other members of the MaNGA team took various test-observations of sky and stars, before turning their attention to galaxies. MaNGA can observe 17 galaxies in one go, and with two plates completed this resulted in 34 galaxies.

MaNGA Observing Team

The MaNGA observing team at APO. From left to right: David Law (Toronto), John Parejko (Yale), Niv Drory (UT at Austin), Nick MacDonald (UW), PI Kevin Bundy (IPMU), Anne-Marie Weijmans (St Andrews), Renbin Yan (Kentucky), Brian Cherinka (Toronto), José Sánchez-Gallego (Kentucky) and Hai Fu (Iowa). (credit: D.R. Law).

Right now, two more cartridges are being prepared for MaNGA to start observing this summer, and in the Fall, three more cartridges will follow. And at the same time, MaNGA lead data scientist David Law (Toronto) and survey scientist Renbin Yan (Kentucky) with many other members of the MaNGA team are working hard to analyze the results of these first 34 galaxies. Only 9,966 more to go!

MaNGA First Galaxies

One plate full of galaxies. These galaxies are the very first ones observed by the final MaNGA instrument. Some galaxies have been off-set from the centre of the IFU to allow inclusion of foreground stars, to test our measurement precisions. (credit: K. Bundy).

To keep in touch with MaNGA and see what we are up to, follow us on Twitter @MaNGASurvey.

A few more pictures:

 

 

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MaNGA galaxy plate, showing the holes for the MaNGA IFUs and sky fibers (credit: D.R. Law)

Anne-Marie plugging a MaNGA plate

Attempt at plugging a MaNGA plate by lead observer Anne-Marie Weijmans (St Andrews), (credit N. Drory).

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MaNGA observers watching the stars (credit: D.R. Law).

 

Video of SDSS Plate Drilling

Below is a video showing the production of SDSS plug plates in the Physics Instrument Shop at The University of Washington. Plates are drilled, cleaned, and measured here before being shipped to APO. Once installed on the SDSS 2.5m telescope at APO, optical fibers carry light from each hole to the spectrograph being used. Every plate represents a patch of sky three degrees in diameter. The SDSS spectrograph allowed for 640 targets in this region, with the BOSS spectrograph that increased to 1000.

Videography and Editing by Gaelen Sayres and Mary Kawamura.

Music: Williamson – Hello Mr. Hoshi.

With thanks to Connor Sayres for sending us the video.